Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tailored health education messages increase attention

Tailored, i.e. personalized and individualized,  health education messages are generally found to be more effective in promoting health behavior change than generic health education messages. The evidence is most convincing for nutrition education messages. It has been argued that a higher attention for personalized messages causes such better effects. A recent study by Kessels et al.  published in the journal 'Appetite' used objective  assessments of attention to test if attention was indeed higher for tailored as compared to generic nutrition education messages. The amount of attention allocation was measured by recording event-related potentials, i.e. 'brain waves', and reaction times. Results revealed a main effect of tailoring, indicating that more attention resources were allocated to tailored vs. non-tailored messages. The study also tested the effects of low threat vs. high threat messages, and the results indicate that high threat messages, i.e. messages that may initiate more fear, get less attention. The findings confirm that tailoring is an effective means to draw attention to health messages, whereas high threat information seems to result in a loss in message attention. Nutrition education should thus be preferably personally tailored but should not present fear arousing messages.