Designing persuasive health materials using processing fluency: a literature review

BMC Res Notes. 2017 Jun 8;10(1):198. doi: 10.1186/s13104-017-2524-x.


Background: Health materials to promote health behaviors should be readable and generate favorable evaluations of the message. Processing fluency (the subjective experience of ease with which people process information) has been increasingly studied over the past decade. In this review, we explore effects and instantiations of processing fluency and discuss the implications for designing effective health materials. We searched seven online databases using "processing fluency" as the key word. In addition, we gathered relevant publications using reference snowballing. We included published records that were written in English and applicable to the design of health materials.

Results: We found 40 articles that were appropriate for inclusion. Various instantiations of fluency have a uniform effect on human judgment: fluently processed stimuli generate positive judgments (e.g., liking, confidence). Processing fluency is used to predict the effort needed for a given task; accordingly, it has an impact on willingness to undertake the task. Physical perceptual, lexical, syntactic, phonological, retrieval, and imagery fluency were found to be particularly relevant to the design of health materials.

Conclusions: Health-care professionals should consider the use of a perceptually fluent design, plain language, numeracy with an appropriate degree of precision, a limited number of key points, and concrete descriptions that make recipients imagine healthy behavior. Such fluently processed materials that are easy to read and understand have enhanced perspicuity and persuasiveness.

Keywords: Health education; Health information; Health literacy; Health materials; Persuasiveness; Processing fluency; Readability.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Pamphlets
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Reading
  • Teaching Materials / standards*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*