Examining the Link Between Framed Physical Activity Messages and Behaviour: An Application of the Communication Behaviour Change Model

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Berenbaum, Erin
Eye tracking , Message framing , Health promotion , Physical activity
Physical inactivity is a national issue affecting more than half of all Canadian adults (Colley et al., 2011). Health messaging, including message framing, has been a popular medium for encouraging individuals to adopt recommended health behaviours such as physical activity. Previous research has demonstrated that gain-framed messages, which emphasize the benefits of a behaviour, are more effective at promoting physical activity (PA) than loss-framed messages which emphasize the costs. However, the mechanism through which this facilitating effect occurs is unclear. The current study examined the effects of message framing on attention, attitudes, recall, decision to be active and behaviour as well as the mediating effects of these variables on the frame-behaviour relationship in accordance with the communication behaviour change (CBC) model (McGuire, 1989). Sixty moderately active women, aged 18-35 viewed 20 gain- or loss- framed ads and 5 control ads while their eye movements were recorded via eye tracking. Attitudes towards PA, message recall, decision to become active and PA behaviour during an acute bout of exercise were measured immediately following ad exposure. Self-reported PA was measured one week later. Univariate ANOVAs, ANCOVAs and logistic regressions were conducted to examine the effects of message framing on each level of the CBC model. The gain-framed ads attracted greater attention, ps<0.05, produced more positive attitudes, p = .06, were better recalled, p < .001, influenced decisions to be active, p = .07, and had an immediate and delayed impact on behaviour, ps < .05, compared to the loss-framed messages. However, mediation analyses failed to reveal any significant effects suggesting that alternate mechanisms may be influencing framing effects on behaviour. This study demonstrates the effects of framed messages on several novel outcomes; however the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear.
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