Message Framing and Visual Aids Increase Condom Use and STD Screening

Garcia-Retamero, R., & Cokely, E. (2011). Effective communication of risks to young adults: Using message framing and visual aids to increase condom use and STD screening. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 17 (3), 270-287.

Research has indicated that the way in which health messages are framed has a significant impact on the degree to which they influence attitudes and behavior. One important dimension of framing is gain vs. loss. Gain-framed messages focus on the benefits of adopting specific health practices, whereas loss-framed messages focus on the dangers of failing to adopt specific practices. Previous studies of message framing have indicated that gain-framed messages seem to be most effective when advocating preventative health practices, such as physical exercise and safe driving. In contrast, loss-framed messages seem most effective in promoting illness detecting behaviors, such as cholesterol screening and mammography. Garcia-Retamero and Cokely (2011) investigated the impact of framing on intentions to use condoms and to undergo STD screening. They were also interested in the use of visual aids to convey these messages. A total of 662 sexually active, young adults in Spain provided responses to a brochure, which varied in terms of gain vs. loss framing, prevention (with condoms) vs. detection (by screening), and presence of visual aids. As predicted, results showed that the gain framed message produced greater support for condom use (a preventative health practice) whereas the loss-framed message produced greater support for STD screening (an illness detecting behavior). However, once visual aids were introduced, gain-framed and loss-framed messages were both effective in promoting condom use and STD screening.

Making Connections

Risk perception
Social influence

Media Supplement

In this TED Talk Amy Lockwood discusses problems with the marketing used by donor agencies to sell condoms in the Congo. [4 min 17 sec]