Concrete messages increase healthy eating preferences

Emily Balcetis, Madhumitha Manivannan, E. Blair Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public health campaigns utilize messaging to encourage healthy eating. The present experimental study investigated the impact of three components of health messages on preferences for healthy foods. We exposed 1676 online, American study participants to messages that described the gains associated with eating healthy foods or the costs associated with not eating healthy foods. Messages also manipulated the degree to which they included abstract and concrete language and the temporal distance to foreshadowed outcomes. Analysis of variance statistical tests indicated that concrete rather than abstract language increased the frequency of choosing healthy over unhealthy foods when indicating food preferences. However, manipulations of proximity to outcomes and gain rather than loss frame did not affect food preferences. We discuss implications for effective public health campaigns, and economic and social cognitive theories of persuasion, and our data suggest that describing health outcomes in concrete rather than abstract terms may motivate healthier choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-681
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Abstraction
  • Construal level
  • Junk food
  • Temporal distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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