Research & Insights

When It Comes to Breastfeeding Messages, Credibility Matters

By Erin Meisenzahl-Peace

Ananda Sabil Hussein, Brawijaya University
David Cohen and Valerie Manna, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand

New research suggests that pregnant women are more likely to respond favorably to messages about why they should breast-feed their child if the person trying to convince them is a credible spokesperson, such as a doctor.

Writing in the May 2014 issue of the International Journal of Business, researchers Ananda Hussein, David Cohen and Valerie Manna found that even if the message is positive, women aren’t likely to be convinced if the information is being delivered by someone—such as a graduate student—who they don’t think is sufficiently knowledgeable about the health benefits of breast feeding.

For their study, researchers recruited 279 pregnant Indonesian women. Each was asked to rate four different versions of informational booklets based on various seven-point scales rating the booklets on aspects such as persuasiveness and believability.

Positively framed messages boasted the benefits of breastfeeding, such as how a mother’s milk contributes to their child’s healthy development. The positive pamphlets also explained that breastfeeding costs less than bottle feeding and that it decreases the risk of breast cancer, among other things.

Negatively framed messages warned that children who don’t receive breast milk are at risk of a weakened digestive system and other dangers posed by lacking necessary antibodies. The pamphlets also warned that choosing not to breastfeed is expensive and increases the risk of breast cancer.

The booklets varied in attributing the source of the information for the claims being made. Some said the information came from doctors, while others said information was drawn from undergraduate students.

After reading the booklet, participants responded to a series of questions regarding their attitudes towards breastfeeding and intentions to breastfeed.

The researchers found that positively framed messages were more influential than negatively framed messages—but only when presented as coming from a high-credibility source, such as a doctor who was supported by the fictitious “Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers Club.” When paired with a low-credibility source, such as an undergraduate student, the framing did not make a significant difference.

“Framing alone does not establish the type of connection with the target audience that framing in conjunction with a credible message source appears to provide,” Hussein, Cohen and Manna write.

When it comes to breastfeeding, the positive message and credible message source influenced women’s attitudes, which in turn influence intention to breastfeed.

Although attitudes are “formed over time and with repeated exposure to the stimulus, or as a result of different sources of influence pointing to the same basic evaluation,” exposing women to multiple positively-framed messages from credible sources may lead to changed breastfeeding behavior.

Erin Meisenzahl-Peace is a staff writer for frankology and a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Florida. Follow her on Twitter.

Posted: October 26, 2015
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