University Students Will Die If They Don’t Read This!!

I can’t guarantee that you won’t die by reading this, but you’re here so you might as well continue… So why are you here? Is it because you have to for science communication? Or is it because the title drew you in? While both are valid possibilities, let’s say that it is due to the title, which is an example of a negatively framed message. However was the death threat, the only factor that persuaded you to read further? No, says Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy, who published a paper on the influence of framing and issue involvement.

So messages can be framed positively and negatively and this will generally have an influence on the way that the audience is persuaded by that message. Positively framed messages will tell their audience of the benefits associated, for example ‘woman who do a breast self examination (BSE) have an increased chance of finding a tumour in the early, more treatable stage of the disease’ whereas a negative frame will focus on the benefits lost, ‘woman who do a breast BSE have a decreased chance of finding a tumour in the early, more treatable stage of the disease’. This concept of negative and positive frames can be found in most messages, from disease prevention to the humble carton of milk.

However, the issue of which frame is more persuasive to the audience is hotly contested with reports claiming the positive frame being the most effective and other saying the negative frame is the winner, and in the example above I think it’s safe to say that the negative frame would be more persuasive at getting women to check their breasts, but for instance if we look at milk, they claim to be 99% an example of a positive frame. Maheswaran and Meyers-Levy looked further into this aspect of communication to determine if the audience’s involvement in an issue will influence the message’s persuasiveness and as was found in the study the audience were less likely to respond to positively framed messages when there was a high involvement, although if the message was of low involvement then the negative framing would not be as effective as if it was positively framed.

So you could say that by using a negatively framed title and making it an issue of high involvement, as it was directed at university students, theoretically I was able to make the argument for reading my blog much more persuasive. However this information, that message framing and Issue involvement are important in creating a persuasive message, can have a much more practical use in the world of science communication.


Maheswaran, D & Meyers-Levy, J (1990) ‘The Influence of Message Framing and Issue Involvement’, Journal of Marketing Research, vol. 27, pp. 361-367.

Ayshe Kerimofski


5 comments so far

  1. habasabah on

    Hi Ayshe!

    When I saw your blog I did actually think of a few reasons (before reading on) that you may have chosen to use such a ‘shocking’ title. 😛 My first thought was that as part of the unit requirement we HAVE to read a blog and make a comment – or it’s Sci-Comm-suicide! So I think your introduction is quite clever in setting the scene for the rest of the blog!

    I wonder how we would have responded if your title had taken on a different nature. For example: “University Students Won’t Die If They Read This!!” – the question is whether this has a positive or negative frame!?!!? Or: “University Students Will Have A Greater Chance of Success If They Read This!!” – but this is not as effective as giving death threats Ayshe – you’re right.

    I liked the way you structured this, it’s creative and quirky. Nice job! Thank GOD I read it!!! 🙂

  2. nicolabawden7 on

    Intriguing post Ayshe.
    You definitely had my attention from the eye-catching title, plus I figured I better not take that chance!

    I agree that in your example of getting women to check their breasts, that the negative frame would be more successful. But for the negative frame do you mean: ‘women who *don’t do a BSE have a decreased chance of finding a tumour in the early, more treatable stage of the disease’?

    I think in the positive frame, we realise there is the potential to benefit from something but only if we can be bothered, and that we won’t lose anything by not doing it and remaining business as usual. Whereas with the negative frame, if we are informed of what benefits we may potentially lose than the message is more likely to grab our attention and we will accept it not wanting to take the risk.

    Maheswaren and Mayers-Levy make a great point that it depends on the audience’s involvement in the issue. Advertisers have clearly made use of this tactic, which is evident in the example you gave of milk. I agree that extremely important for science communicators to also have a good understanding of message framing and issue involvement, to ensure they get their message across to the public, particularly on matters of risk.

    Nicola Bawden

  3. Ayshe Kerimofski on

    Thanks sabah!
    I think that that would be a positive frame as it’s telling you a benefit, ie not dying. The positive might have worked if it was senior citizens have greater success in life by reading this, however the low involvement would propbably not persuade them to read further, but maybe tell the older generation.

    I think that your right nicola, it should be don’t, i was just making sure you were paying attention….
    I also felt that the positive frame made it sound like you were more likely to get cancer, though i certainly agree with what you said.

  4. ankevaneekelen on

    Hi Ayshe,

    It seems so simple at first site: framing of a message influences choice. But in the context of health messages it seems to play a more complicated role. The desired outcome on attitude or behaviour seems highly dependent on the risk a person runs to be affected by the health issue and therefore its level of involvement with the message.

    This makes me think what is best to do if as a science communicator you would have to develop a national health campaign to inform the wider public of the risk they may run. If targeting such an incredibly diverse population, what would be the best to do? Most government health campaign use the scare tactic (i.e. a negative frame), but not everyone will have the same involvement with the issue? Quite tricky to do such a job well, it seems.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: