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Objective

Evidence is accumulating for the importance of feelings of risk in explaining cancer preventive behaviours, but best practices for influencing these feelings are limited. The aim of this experimental study was to compare the effects of narrative and non-narrative risk communication about sunbed use on ease of imagination and feelings of cancer risk.

Design and methods

A total of 233 female sunbed users in the general Dutch population were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: a narrative message (i.e., personal testimonial), a non-narrative cognitive message (i.e., factual risk information using cognitive-laden words), or a non-narrative affective message (i.e., factual risk information using affective-laden words). Ease of imagination and feelings of risk were assessed directly after the risk information was given (T1). Three weeks after the baseline session, feelings of risk were measured again (T2).

Results

The results revealed that sunbed users who were exposed to narrative risk information could better imagine themselves developing skin cancer and reported higher feelings of skin cancer risk at T1. Moreover, ease of imagination mediated the effects of message type on feelings of risk at T1 and T2.

Conclusion

The findings provide support for the effects of narrative risk communication in influencing feelings of cancer risk through ease of imagination. Cancer prevention programmes may therefore benefit from including narrative risk information. Future research is important to investigate other mechanisms of narrative information and their most effective content and format.

Statement of contribution

What is already known on this subject?

  • Evidence is growing for the importance of feelings of risk in explaining cancer preventive behaviours.
  • Narratives have increasingly been considered as an effective format for persuasive risk messages and studies have shown narrative risk communication to be effective in influencing cognitive risk beliefs.

What does this study add?

  • Increasing understanding of how feelings of cancer risk can be influenced since best practices for influencing these feelings are limited.
  • Extending knowledge about the underlying mechanisms of narrative effects on feelings of cancer risk (i.e., the mediating role of ease of imagination) using a non-student sample.

The findings provide support for the effects of narrative risk communication in influencing feelings of cancer risk through ease of imagination.