We explored the effects of linguistic agency assignment on the persuasive impact of a fictitious medical journal editorial about Type 2 diabetes. Participants (N = 422) read 1 of 4 versions of an editorial that differed in the language used to describe the health threat posed by the disease (threat agency) and to outline a program for preventing it (prevention agency). Threat agency was assigned either to the disease (e.g., diabetes puts individuals lives at risk) or to humans (e.g., individuals who acquire diabetes put their lives at risk). Prevention agency was assigned either to the recommended prevention behaviors (e.g., a healthy diet and regular exercise protect children from Type 2) or to humans (e.g., children who eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly protect themselves from Type 2). Respondents perceptions of disease severity were higher when threat agency was assigned to diabetes rather than humans. However, attitudes toward the proposed prevention program were higher when prevention agency was assigned to humans rather than to the recommended behaviors. The latter finding contrasts with agency effects observed in previous research on a viral threat, suggesting that the optimal pattern of agency assignment in prevention messaging may be different for acute and chronic lifestyle diseases.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Library and Information Sciences