Research & Insights

Gender-specific Language Gets Your Message Into Shape

Although public health experts know that increased physical exercise is a great way to stay healthy, getting the message out can be challenging. But new research suggests that factoring the gender of your target audience into your messaging can make a difference. According to findings, men and women respond differently to messages about physical activity and health.

To explore how men and women respond differently to health messages, psychologists Julia Zuwerink Jacks and Lesia C. Lancaster from Guilford College completed a study using 108 participants recruited from a college campus. Their results were published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Each participant watched one of two news clip discussing the topic of regular exercise. The videos contained an actor portraying a medical expert describing the implications of regular exercise for health. The clips varied on whether they emphasized the potential health benefits of regular exercise or exercise’s ability to help prevent loss of good health. For example, the promotional script for the positive benefits clip read “[W]ith regular exercise you gain both physical health and mental health…[A]s a health professional, I am eager to help promote positive lifestyle choices.”

The script for the loss-prevention clip, on the other hand, read “[W]ithout regular exercise you lose both physical health and mental health…[A]s a health professional, I am anxious to help prevent negative lifestyle choices.”

After viewing the clips, participants were asked questions about their mood and thoughts about the importance of regular exercise.

Both clips were found to be effective for encouraging positive attitudes towards exercise. However, men and women found different messages to be more effective. “[W]omen respond positively in terms of their…judgments of message effectiveness…when the message fits a prevention focus,” they explain. “Men, on the other hand, tend to respond more favorably to messages that fit a promotion focus.”

The major takeaway for communicators is that “it seems advisable to attend to the gender of one’s audience, playing it more subtle and safe when addressing women and perhaps being more eager and enthusiastic when addressing men” on issues of public health.

Journal of Applied Social Psychology

Julia Zuwerink Jacks and Lesia C. Lancaster, Guilford College

Posted: June 29, 2015
Tagged as: