Receptive to an authoritative voice? Experimental evidence on how patronizing language and stressing institutional sources affect public receptivity to nutrition information

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Abstract

Common strategies to make official nutrition information more persuasive include highlighting its institutional sources and using simple and direct language. However, such strategies may be counterproductive, as institutions are no longer self-evidently deemed to be legitimate in contemporary societies and such language can be viewed as patronizing. Our preregistered, population-based survey experiment fielded among a high-quality Dutch probability sample in February 2022 (n = 1947) 1) examines whether these dominant strategies hold up when tested against suggestions of psychological reactance and source derogation, and 2) scrutinizes if such responses are stronger among less-educated citizens. Our experiment mirrored real-life examples of health-information campaigns concerning healthy and unhealthy beverages, with data collected on seven outcome measures to discern receptivity toward the information and its sources. We found that just highlighting institutional sources in the information did not lead to it being perceived more negatively. This was also the case when the language used could be perceived as patronizing, with reactance only present for one outcome measure. Moreover, while less-educated citizens were generally less receptive to nutrition information (six of seven outcome measures), versions that could possibly be perceived as patronizing or/and highlighted institutional sources did not make them less receptive systematically. Importantly, therefore, while our results show that the dominant health-communication strategies do not increase receptivity either, their use will probably not have a negative effect on the general public and so do not need to be discarded.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101295
JournalSSM - Population Health
Volume20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the Erasmus Initiative ‘Smarter Choices for Better Health’ . They had no role in the conceptualization of the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors

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