Persuasive Effects of Linguistic Agency Assignments and Point of View in Narrative Health Messages about Colon Cancer

Meng Chen, Matthew S. McGlone, Robert A Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The authors explored the effects of linguistic agency and point of view on narrative force. Participants (N = 499) were randomly assigned to read one version of an article about colon cancer, defined by a 2 (disease agency: cancer, human) × 2 (temporal agency: death, human) × 2 (point of view: first person, third person) between-subjects design. Disease agency language assigned agency to cancer (e.g., "Cancer developed in me") or to humans (e.g., "I developed cancer"). Temporal agency language described death as approaching humans (e.g., "as death closes in on patients) or as being approached by humans (e.g., "as patients close in on death"). The narrative was presented from the first-person singular or third-person plural viewpoint. Participants then completed a questionnaire measuring threat perceptions, efficacy, transportation, and other study variables. Language assigning agency to humans rather than to cancer elevated susceptibility beliefs. Death-approach language led to greater fear than human-approach language without impacting efficacy perceptions. Human-approach language was rated more persuasive than death-approach language, but only in first-person point-of-view narratives. Transportation and identification were positively associated with ratings of threat severity and susceptibility, fear, efficacy, behavioral intentions, and message persuasiveness. Implications for message design are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)977-988
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 3 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health(social science)
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Communication


Dive into the research topics of 'Persuasive Effects of Linguistic Agency Assignments and Point of View in Narrative Health Messages about Colon Cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this