Why interactive media tools improve the acceptance of health guidance

Interactive media tools, such as comments, "like" buttons and other features that display online content's popularity among users, soften Americans' negative reactions to health guidance, according to a recent study published in Health Communication.

Researchers from University Park, Pa.-based Penn State and Stony Brook (N.Y.) University  found that interactive media tools showing content's popularity among users increased Americans' likelihood of accepting the message behind health guidance, such as limiting excessive drinking or getting vaccinated.

Audiences sometimes feel psychological reactance to messages when they feel their freedom is being threatened. Health communicators often focus on using language to avoid resistance, but placing interactive media tools alongside online health guidance can be an alternate way to increase acceptance, as these tools show the audience that other people are willingly accepting the message.

"If you do a good job designing the interface in a way that displays the popularity of a health message among other viewers, that may lower the psychological reactance among your target audience," S. Shyam Sundar, PhD, one of the researchers, said in a July 12 news release. "This offers a very powerful way of achieving better communication and persuading people to adopt better health practices without altering the message at all.”

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