Designing Skin Cancer Prevention Messages: Should We Emphasize Gains or Losses? Message Framing, Risk Type, and Prior Experience

Moon J. Lee, Hannah Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Purpose: To test whether message framing (ie, gain vs. loss) and risk type (ie, health vs appearance risk) in skin cancer prevention messages interact with one’s prior experience. Design: Two experiments with a 2 (message framing: gain vs loss) × 2 (risk type: health vs appearance risk) factorial design were conducted. Setting: The participants were given a URL to the experiment website via e-mail. On the first page of the website, the participants were told that they would be asked to evaluate a skin cancer print public service announcement (PSA): Online experiments. Participants: A total of 397 individuals participated (236 for experiment 1 and 161 for experiment 2). Apparatus: Four versions of the skin cancer print PSAs were developed. Four PSAs were identical except for the 2 manipulated components: message framing and risk type. Measures: Measures were adopted from Cho and Boster (message framing), Jones and Leary and Kiene et al. (risk type), De Vries, Mesters, van’t Riet, Willems, and Reubsaet and Knight, Kirincich, Farmer, and Hood (prior experience), and Hammond, Fong, Zanna, Thrasher, and Borland and Hoffner and Ye (behavioral intent). Analysis: General linear models were used to test hypotheses. Results: Three-way interactions among message framing, risk type, and prior experience were found: When the intent of the message was to encourage sunscreen use, the effects of message framing and risk type were shown to be the exact opposite directions from when the intent was to discourage indoor/outdoor tanning. Conclusion: To discourage tanning among those with prior experience, messages emphasizing losses in terms of one’s health will work better. For those with no prior experience, messages emphasizing potential appearance losses will work better for discouraging tanning while messages emphasizing gains like improving appearance will do a better job in encouraging sunscreen use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)939-948
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • message design
  • message framing
  • prior experiences
  • risk type
  • skin cancer prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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