The effect of message framing on breast self-examination attitudes, intentions, and behavior

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Mar;52(3):500-10. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.52.3.500.


In this study we tested the framing hypothesis that a pamphlet stressing the negative consequences of not performing breast self-examination (BSE) would be more persuasive than a pamphlet emphasizing BSE's positive consequences. College-aged female subjects were exposed to a loss-frame pamphlet, a gain-frame pamphlet, or a no-arguments pamphlet, or they received no pamphlet describing the importance of and the techniques for performing BSE. Attitudes toward BSE and intentions to perform BSE were assessed immediately after this intervention and again 4 months later. The follow-up also assessed subjects' postexperimental BSE behavior. Consistent with predictions, subjects who read a pamphlet with arguments framed in loss language manifested more positive BSE attitudes, intentions, and behaviors than did subjects in the other three conditions. The greater impact of the loss pamphlet could not be attributed to greater fear arousal, better memory for pamphlet content, greater perceived susceptibility to breast cancer, or stronger beliefs in BSE's efficacy on the part of the loss subjects. Only measures of perceived self-efficacy in performing BSE were differentially affected by the framing manipulation, with loss subjects reporting the greatest levels of self-confidence. The results are discussed in terms of prospect theory's framing postulate and a simpler negativity-bias conceptualization, and underlying mechanisms such as differential salience and vividness are considered. Clinical implications of the findings are also explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Breast*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Motivation
  • Palpation*
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Risk
  • Self Care / psychology*