Which Framed Messages Motivate Older Adults to Move?

Researchers recruited 106 older adults (age 60 to 86) and 132 participants age 19 to 39 to participate in an online survey. In the survey, participants reported how each of 48 exercise-promoting messages made them feel and how effective each would be in making them want to exercise. Each message was framed in one of four ways: benefit framed messages explained how engaging in exercise could lead to good health or help to avoid poor health, while consequence framed messages explained how not exercising enough could hinder good health or could lead to poor health.

Participants generally had more positive emotional reactions to the benefit framed messages than the consequence framed messages, and had more positive reactions to messages that emphasized desirable outcomes (e.g., exercising helps improve health; not exercising hinders health improvement) than messages about undesirable outcomes (e.g., exercising helps avoid weight gain; not exercising leads to weight gain). There was a similar pattern for ratings of message effectiveness—benefit framed and desirable outcome messages were rated as more effective than consequence framed and undesirable outcome messages.

However, this wasn’t the whole story. Interestingly, message effectiveness depended on different emotional reactions for the different frames—for benefit frames, a more positive reaction was associated with greater effectiveness, whereas for consequence frames, a more negative reaction was associated with greater effectiveness. This might make sense based on the meaning of each type of frame, but there were important age differences too. Older adults tended to find messages that evoked strong positive emotions to be the most effective, but younger adults found the more negative messages to be most effective in influencing their desire to exercise. These findings could provide valuable information for health promotion efforts.


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Liu X, Shuster MM, Mikels JA, and Stine-Morrow EAL. Doing what makes you happy: Health message framing for younger and older adults. Experimental Aging Research (2019); 45(4): 293-305.

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