Frightfully funny: combining threat and humour in health messages for men and women


  • L. Janssen
  • H. Hendriks


Imperative for public health is investigating what factors may reduce defensive responses to health information, improving the adoption of health-conducive behaviour. The present research investigated gender differences in responses to threatening health-promoting information communicated with humour. Male and female participants were exposed to a health messages stressing the severe or less severe negative consequences of binge drinking (Experiment 1; N = 209) or caffeine consumption (Experiment 2; N = 242), that did or did not contain a funny visual metaphor (Experiment 1) or a slapstick cartoon (Experiment 2). Message evaluation, message attention, and attitudes and behavioral intentions were measured. ANOVAs showed that health messages were more persuasive when communicated with humour, but humour played a different role for men and women. For men, the humorous high threat message was more persuasive than the other three messages (attitude and intention to decrease caffeine consumption in Experiment 2: F(3, 130) = 10.34, p = .002, η2 = .070; F(3, 130) = 7.77, p = .006, η2 = .056. In contrast, for women, the humorous low threat message was most persuasive (attitude and intention to decrease caffeine consumption: F(3, 104) = 4.50, p = .036, η2 = .041; F(3, 104) = 4.61, p = .034, η2 = .042. By uncovering the moderating role of gender as a key audience characteristic, this research contributes to designing effective future health campaigns and provides important insights for future studies investigating the underlying mechanisms responsible for the different effects of threat and humour for men and women.





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