Effects of Case History versus Abstract Information on Health Attitudes and Behaviors1


  • 1

    This research was supported by National Institute on Aging Grant AG04125. I wish to thank Joan Craig, Marilyn Farkas, Janet Wilder, and Elaine Zimmerman for their help in collecting the data, and Anne Peplau and Bill Thompson for their helpful comments in preparing the article.

2 Requests for reprints should be sent to Karen Rook, Program in Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717.


Social psychological theory suggests that information presented in the form of a vivid case history is often more persuasive than information presented in abstract form, yet this idea has rarely been tested in the health promotion area. Three studies compared the effectiveness of health information presented in case history form with equivalent information presented in abstract form. The case history version had a greater impact on subjects' health attitudes and behavioral intentions in Studies 1 and 2. Study 3 investigated subjects at high risk for a serious health threat and found that the case history version was more persuasive than the abstract version among those who minimized the health threat. A six-weeks follow-up in Study 3 indicated that the case history version modestly enhanced long-term recall of the information but did not differentially affect subjects' actual health behaviors. The three studies provided partial support for the prediction that the case history version would arouse greater affect than the abstract version. Implications for health promotion programs are discussed.