Date of Award

Fall 2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

Robert Hornik

Abstract

This dissertation describes studies which apply theory from the fields of communication and social psychology to create and test persuasive messages aimed at increasing parental intention to provide healthy nutrition and perform sun protection behaviors for their children. These behaviors have been shown to be significantly associated with the risk of developing cancer later in life. The experiments tested whether the manipulation of the observability of a health behavior and exposure to normative (i.e. stresses injunctive norms) or attitudinally focused messages (i.e. stresses health benefits of the behavior), could influence the normative route to intention to perform preventive health behaviors. The first study randomized participants to a behavioral scenario in which the health behavior is described as occurring in an observable or non-observable setting. The effects of observability were tested in the contexts of nutrition and sun protection behaviors. A second study tested the effect of normative compared with attitudinal messages on the relative weight given to attitudes and norms in forming intention to perform preventive health behaviors among parents of young children. This study also tested the interaction between two individual level traits - other-directedness and identification with other parents - and exposure to normatively focused messages. For sun protection behaviors, observability primed the influence of social norms on intention. Among parents who reported lower levels of social norms, observability reduced intention to practice sun protection behaviors. Among parents who reported higher levels of social norms, observability increased intention. In addition, among participants exposed to a normative message about nutrition, identification with other parents was shown to moderate the effects of message type on intention to serve one’s child healthy foods. Results also showed some evidence to support an interaction between self-consciousness and exposure to message type among parents surveyed about nutrition. Parents who were more attuned to their own beliefs and values when forming intentions (i.e. high in self-consciousness) were more vulnerable to the effects of attitudinally focused messages about nutrition than parents who were low in this trait. Possible explanations for the findings, as well as implications for future research are discussed.

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