Tailored Health Messages More Likely To Lead To Change


Tailored Health Messages More Likely To Lead To Change
October 22, 2008

by Nancy Volkers
InteliHealth News Service

INTELIHEALTH – Tailoring messages about flossing to a patient’s personality type may work better than giving everyone the same message, research says.

Researchers from three universities did three studies to support this idea. They were from the University of California, Santa Barbara; Kent State University, Kent, Ohio; and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

In one study, they recruited 63 college students who did not floss their teeth. Each student took a short personality quiz.

Students fell into two groups. One group was more likely to respond to positive messages about the effects of flossing. For example, “If you floss regularly, you will have healthier teeth and gums.”

The other group responded better to messages about what might happen if they did not floss. For example, “If you don’t floss regularly, the health of your teeth and gums is at risk.”

Each student was then randomly assigned to read one of two articles. One talked about the benefits of flossing. The other talked about the risks of not flossing. Each student was given seven packs of single-use floss and asked to return one week later.

The students who read the article that matched their personality flossed 65% more during the next week than students who read a non-matched article.

Another study involved 67 undergraduates who did not floss. They took the same personality test. They were asked to read multiple messages about flossing. Then they were given packs of floss to take home. Students who read messages that fit their personality flossed 50% more than students who did not.

A third study involved 136 college students. They took the same personality quiz as the other groups. Then they then listened to arguments about why they should floss. Some were framed as positive messages and others as negative ones.

When an argument’s style matched their personality, students could better assess whether it was strong or weak. A strong argument was one based on scientific evidence. A weak argument was one based on personal stories or unrelated to dental health.

The researchers note that during a dental visit, dental professionals have many opportunities to discuss flossing with patients. The authors say dentists can use the tool described in this study to determine the personality of a patient. By understanding each patient’s personality features, the dentist and dental hygienist can help patients to learn how to take care of their teeth.

The studies appear in the October issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

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