ARTICLE: Are personal stories better than news at disseminating health information?

Untitled by Steve Buissinne, licence CC0 1.0

Yi Mou, of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Fuyuan Shen, of Pennsylvania State University, studied whether the effects of health information change according to its supposed source. They had 190 Chinese university students view social media posts made by a fictional person and surveyed them afterwards.

The collection of social media posts contained either links to news stories on dengue fever, or personal accounts of the disease. Some of the stories had a negative ending and others a positive ending (either the death of a patient, or recovery).

The better the readers were able to imagine the situation and the people involved, the more likely they were to take action against the disaease. Contrary to the authors’ expectations, the source had no direct effect: overall news stories and personal narratives had similar persuasive power.

However, Mou and Shen discovered an interaction effect between source type and story ending. The participants were more captivated by news stories with positive endings, but personal stories were more compelling with a negative ending.

The authors also found that emotion does not predict persuasive effects. While sad endings evoked more emotions in the respondents, they did not affect the likelihood of taking action (e.g. seeking additional information on dengue fever or sharing the story further).

The article “(Potential) patients like me” was published by the Chinese Journal of Communication. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).

Picture: Untitled by Steve Buissinne, licence CC0 1.0.

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