Risk Perceptions and Message Framing in Physical Activity Promotion: An Aging Perspective

Project: Research

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Despite the health benefits, most adults, especially older adults, are not physically active at a recommended level (Haskell et al., 2007). To break the inertia of inactivity, physical activity (PA) promotion messages may present a necessary trigger for such a behavioral decision (Fishbein & Cappella, 2006). Health messages about promotion behaviors (e.g., PA), which are often perceived as not risky, are more effective when framed in terms of gains rather than losses (Rothman, Bartels, Wlaschin, & Salovey, 2006). On the contrary, messages about detection behaviors (e.g., HIV screening) are more effective when framed in terms of losses, because being diagnosed of a disease can be potentially threatening.Besides functional characteristics (i.e., protection versus detection), the framing effect in health behaviors may also depend on the individual differences in risk perceptions (Apanovitch, McCarthy, & Salovey, 2003; Rothman, 2006). Specifically, individuals who perceive health behaviors as risky are more responsive to loss-framed messages. Since older adults often report medical concerns and unpleasant sensations as barriers of PA participation (O'Brien Cousins, 2000; Wilcox, Bopp, Oberrecht, Kammermann, & McElmurray, 2003), PA may indeed be perceived as more risky. Hence, gain-framed PA messages may be less effective among older adults.To examine the effects of perceived risks on message framing effects, two studies are proposed. In Study 1, we will examine the age differences in the framing effect in PA promotion and whether risk perceptions can explain such age differences. To provide further evidence of the interrelation between risk perceptions and message framing, Study 2 aims to examine whether providing risk management of PA (including pre-activity screening and safety tips) can enhance the effectiveness of gain-framed messages in a sample of older adults with diabetes. Study 2 also provides evidence for the utility of message framing and risk management in a real-world setting. Results of these studies can inform better message design and risk management for PA promotion in the aging population.


Project number9041605
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/117/03/14