Issue Involvement in a Persuasive Message

“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” Mark Twain

Message framing is a term used to describe the way in which a message is presented to give either positive or negative connotations.

An effectively framed message can essentially influence someone’s opinion and shape the way they think about an issue – a pretty powerful skill to have!

It’s no surprise therefore that countless studies have been conducted all over the world so that this technique can be perfected and used to convince people to buy your product, vote for you, wear sunscreen, and the list goes on.

What’s interesting is the studies have produced contradictory results. Some found that putting a positive spin (focusing on benefits gained) on a message was more persuasive than putting a negative spin (focusing on benefits lost) on a message, whilst other studies showed the reverse was true.

Several theories as to why this might be so have been put forward, one of which is issue involvement.

Issue involvement refers to your level of association with the subject matter.

Maheswaran and Myers-Levy studied the role it plays, and found that when issue involvement was high, negatively framed messages were more persuasive, whereas when issue involvement was low, positively framed messages were more persuasive.

What this means for science communication is that we really need to look our target audience and how personally relevant the message you are trying to communicate is to them.

If your goal were to convince people to accept a new bird flu vaccination, how would you frame your message in a publication such as Mother and Baby?

a)     Make an appointment to vaccinate your child today.

b)     Vaccinations can save lives

c)      If you don’t vaccinate your child they may get sick from bird flu

d)     Vaccinate your child to prevent them from getting bird flu

e)      Many lives were lost in the recent bird flu pandemic



Maheswaran, D., & Meyers-Levy, J. (1990). The influence of message framing and issue involvement. Journal of Marketing Research, 27, 361-367.



1 comment so far

  1. shortfletch on

    First, I wanted to tell you that I thought it was a fantastic idea to set out a hypothetical situation and then ask how you would frame the message.

    If negatively framed messages are more persuasive in high involvement situations then I would pick option c) or maybe d).

    Any half decent mother will have a high level of involvement with their child. They will be very concerned about his/her health. Therefore, as you stated a negative message is more effective. This eliminates options a) and b). While option e) is most negative, it did not mention children. I think in this case mentioning the effect on the child is important. I also think the word sick has negative connotations so to me c) is more negative than d). That is why I choose c).

    This is my thinking, others are more than welcome to disagree.

    My question for you is, would you consider the effects of climate change to be high or low involvement, and therefore what kind of framing should science communicators be using in these messages?

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