Cognitive responses to positively and negatively framed health messages: a thought-listing study

Psychol Health Med. 2014;19(6):724-9. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2013.871305. Epub 2013 Dec 17.


This study compared spontaneous cognitive responses to a positively vs. negatively framed health message. Deakin University students (n = 51) read one of two versions of a message concerning a type of heart disease. In the negative condition, the message focused on the prospect of experiencing heart disease; in the positive condition, it focused on the prospect of avoiding heart disease. Participants completed a thought-listing task, reporting any thought that occurred to them while they were reading the message. Consistent with hypotheses derived from Prospect Theory, the negative condition prompted more extensive processing and more defensive processing. Participants in the negative condition were also more likely to consider taking protective action. Findings are discussed in the context of the health-framing literature.

Keywords: Prospect Theory; framing; health communication; thought-listing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Promotion / standards*
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Random Allocation
  • Young Adult