A self-regulatory framework for message framing

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After several decades of research on message framing, there is still no clear and consistent answer to the question of when emphasizing positive or negative outcomes in a persuasive message will be most effective. Whereas early framing research considered the type of recommended behavior (health-affirming vs. illness-detection) to be the determining factor, more recent research has looked to individual differences to answer this question. In this paper, we incorporate both approaches under a single framework. The framework describes the multiple self-regulatory levels at which a message can be framed and predicts when framing at each level will be most effective. Two central predictions were confirmed across four studies: (1) messages describing the pleasures of adhering to the recommended behavior are most effective for recipients in a promotion focus (who are concerned with meeting growth needs), whereas messages describing the pains of not adhering are most effective for recipients in a prevention focus (who are concerned with meeting safety needs), and (2) the content of an advocacy message is essential, as different topics induce different regulatory orientations. By showing that different message content can induce a promotion or prevention focus, past findings and theories can be accommodated within the proposed framework, and a single set of self-regulatory principles can be used to understand message framing.


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology



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