Message framing and college students' HIV-preventive behavior

Date of Completion

January 1999


Psychology, Behavioral|Psychology, Social|Health Sciences, Public Health




The current study examined the effect of message framing on the promotion of HIV-preventive behavior among college students. As it has been utilized in the health behavior field, message framing is derived from Kahneman and Tversky's prospect theory of decision making, and refers to the focus of the persuasive messages used in health behavior promotion programs. Specifically, gain-framed messages emphasize the benefits people can gain by engaging in the recommended behavior. Conversely, loss-framed messages highlight the fact that people will not obtain the benefits associated with the recommended behavior if they fail to adopt that behavior. ^ College students (123 women and 28 men) attended either a two-hour gain-framed HIV-prevention intervention, a two-hour loss-framed HIV-prevention intervention, or a two-hour no-treatment control session. The HIV intervention activities were based on the Information, Motivation, Behavioral Skills (IMB) model of behavior change. The IMB model has been successfully utilized to conceptualize and promote HIV-preventive behavior among a variety of populations. Baseline data regarding the participants' HIV-preventive attitudes, behavioral intentions, and self-reported behavior were gathered one month prior to the treatment and control sessions. Postmeasure questionnaires administered immediately at the conclusion of the treatment and control sessions assessed short-term changes in the participants' attitudes and behavioral intentions. Long-term changes in the participants' behavioral intentions and self-reported behavior were assessed via a two-month follow-up questionnaire. ^ No message framing effects were found on any of the immediate postmeasure measures of attitudes and behavioral intentions. Similarly, there were no message framing effects on the two-month follow-up behavioral intention and self-report behavior measures. However, several overall intervention effects (i.e., comparing the combined treatment interventions against the control group) were found at the immediate postmeasure, indicating that both the gain- and loss-framed treatment interventions were successful in promoting positive HIV-prevention attitudes and behavioral intentions. ^ Several possible reasons for the lack of significant message framing effects in the current study are explored. Finally, the applicability of message framing within the health behavior field is discussed, and recommendations for future research are proposed. ^