The differential effects of risk avoidance and remedy messages on intentions and willingness to engage in risky sexual behavior
Objective: There are two common health communication approaches to promote health behavior and reduce risky behavior. The first approach has been through risk avoidance messages and the second through the promotion of remedy messages. While the goals of risk avoidance and remedy messages are similar, research suggests that they produce contrasting outcomes. To date, remedy messages have not been experimentally examined for influence on sexual behavior. This dissertation seeks to answer the question: does exposure to a risk avoidance message versus a remedy message differentially influence intentions and willingness to engage in risky sexual behavior?
Methods: Two studies were conducted. For study I, 396 University of California, Merced undergraduates participated in the study. Participants evaluated variations on risk avoidance messages and remedy messages for various outcomes (e.g. believability and favorability) with the goal that the most favorable messages will be used in study II. For study II, 895 Mechanical Turk users were randomly assigned to a risk avoidance message condition, a remedy message condition, or a control message condition. Participants were asked about their intentions and willingness to engage in sexual behavior without a condom. Their perceived risk, prototype perceptions, subjective norms, and STI or HIV contraction worry were also evaluated.
Results: The overall model for both analyses were significant with worry over contracting an STI or HIV being the only significant predictor to add to the model predicting willingness to engage in risky sexual behavior. Thus, as STI or HIV contraction worry increased, willingness to engage in sex without a condom decreased. Additionally, an interaction effect between the remedy message and STI or HIV contraction worry were found to predict participants’ risk perceptions.
Conclusions: Determining if remedy messages induce individuals to participate in risky sexual behavior practices, as results from other remedy studies have shown this effect to be true, remain important. Findings showing that remedy messages may induce the opposite effect on individuals and increase their intentions and willingness to engage in risky sexual behavior would have important implications on the way we communicate remedy products.