Appearance matters: The frame and focus of health messages influences beliefs about skin cancer

  • Thomas K
  • Hevey D
  • Pertl M
 et al. 
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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: This study sought to ascertain whether the health message 'framing effect', which has been observed for several diseases, occurs for messages concerning the consequences of skin cancer for one's appearance or one's health. Specifically, the effect of the frame and focus of health messages on intentions to perform skin protection behaviours and the perceived threat of skin cancer was investigated.

DESIGN: Consistent with previous research and to avoid carry-over effects, a two-factor, between-groups (message frame: gain vs. loss × message focus: appearance vs. health) design was used.

METHODS: Participants (N= 390) were recruited using convenience sampling and presented with one of four health messages, which were embedded in a questionnaire concerning beliefs about skin cancer (intentions to perform different skin protection behaviours, the perceived threat of skin cancer) and body consciousness. The health messages were framed in terms of loss (risks of sun exposure) or gain (benefits of skin protection) and focused on the consequences of sun exposure for one's appearance or one's health. The primary outcome measures were responses on rating scales concerning the perceived threat of skin cancer, intentions to perform different skin cancer protection behaviours, and body consciousness.

RESULTS: Perceived threat of skin cancer was found to be greater for appearance-focused messages and intentions to perform different skin protection behaviours were greater for loss-framed messages. These findings held when individual differences in body consciousness were controlled for.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that, for the communication of information about skin cancer to be effective, messages must focus on the impact of sun exposure and inadequate skin protection for people's appearance, not just their health. Moreover, to maximize effectiveness, health messages about skin cancer should take account of dispositional differences in the importance placed upon one's appearance.

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