Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Message Framing Pt2: Risky Behavior

Message framing (MF) is a rhetorical strategy, used in a wide range of persuasive messages in order to gain the compliance of a particular target audience. A very common use of MF is found in public service anouncements (PSA's). The specific use of MF we will discuss here is its application so PSA's addressing risky behavior by young people. Assuming the basic components of MF outlined in pt1 of this series, we will look at two primary rhetorical strategies employed by those using MF: messages that use gain-framed appeals which emphasize the positive benefits of compliance and loss-framed appeals which emphasize negative aspects of failing to comply with the persuasive appeal.

Recent research applying MF to PSA's has disclosed some helpful insights about what kinds of frames are most useful at securing positive college drinkresponses by a target audience and under what circumstances. With respect to college drinking, Gerend and Cullen (2008) found that gain-framed messages emphasizing the positive effects of moderate drinking were more effective than loss-framed messages if the gain-framed message was combined with an emphasis on the short-term benefitsof moderation rather than the long-term negative consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. Another study, focusing on the application of MF to anti-drug campaigns, Choi and Buster (2008) conluded that loss-frame messages were more effective with adolescents who either used pot or had friends who used pot, while gain-framed prevention messages were more effective at gaining compliance with adolescents who neither used pot in the past and had friends who were non-users. They reasoned that the difference in the effectiveness of the message frames came down to the assesment of risk by the message receivers. Adolescents who used pot, viewed non-use as risky since it entailed possible negative consequences, therefore, a message which framed continued use of pot negatively, as potentianlly dangerous, was more persuasive to them, while non-users simply needed reinforcement of the benefits of non-use since maitaining their current practice was not perceived as risky and involved certain gains. In another study, Marman and van de Putte (2008) found that persuasive appeals interacted with other message characteristics, subjective concerns, and context factors to produce compliance with anti-smoking messages. They were able to conclude that in the specific case where an individuals intention to quit smoking was high and the level of nicotene was high, loss-framed messages were more effective at gaining compliance. In the case where intention to quit was low and nicotene dependence was low, they concluded that gain-framed messages were more effective.

The conclusion to be drawn from the sampling of these 3 studies suggests that MF interacts with other message characteristics and context factors to effect compliance. Framing messages effectively for PSA's will require the persuader to accurately assess the receivers subjective conceptions of risk in relationship to the message of the appeal, carefully consider the nature of the PSA, and the characteristics of the target audience.

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