Effective communication of risks to young adults: using message framing and visual aids to increase condom use and STD screening

J Exp Psychol Appl. 2011 Sep;17(3):270-87. doi: 10.1037/a0023677.


Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)-including HIV/AIDS-are among the most common infectious diseases in young adults. How can we effectively promote prevention and detection of STDs in this high risk population? In a two-phase longitudinal experiment we examined the effects of a brief risk awareness intervention (i.e., a sexual health information brochure) in a large sample of sexually active young adults (n = 744). We assessed the influence of gain- and loss-framed messages, and visual aids, on affective reactions, risk perceptions, attitudes, behavioral intentions, and reported behaviors relating to the prevention and detection of STDs. Results indicate that gain-framed messages induced greater adherence for prevention behaviors (e.g., condom use), whereas loss-framed messages were more effective in promoting illness-detecting behaviors (e.g., making an appointment with a doctor to discuss about STD screening). The influence of the framed messages on prevention and detection of STDs was mediated by changes in participants' attitudes toward the health behaviors along with changes in their behavioral intentions. Moreover, when visual aids were added to the health information, both the gain- and loss-framed messages became equally and highly effective in promoting health behaviors. These results converge with other data indicating that well-constructed visual aids are often among the most highly effective, transparent, fast, memorable, and ethically desirable means of risk communication. Theoretical, economic, and public policy implications of these results are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Audiovisual Aids*
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Contraception Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pamphlets
  • Risk
  • Safe Sex*
  • Sex Education / methods*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control