Rethinking Risk: Prospect Theory Application in Health Message Framing Research

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25 Scopus citations


Although prospect theory conceptualizes risk as uncertainty, health message framing research based on the theory typically conceptualizes risk as severity. This study reports the results of two experiments designed to explore these alternative conceptualizations of risk and their effect on health decision making. Participants (N1 = 768, N2 = 532) were randomly assigned to one of four conditions that presented a hypothetical scenario of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) outbreak. The conditions were defined by message prompt (deadly vs. easily curable STD) and response option frame (gain vs. loss). Participants selected which of two programs (certain outcome vs. uncertain outcome) they would prefer to combat the outbreak. Across both experiments, participants expressed strong preferences for certain (low risk) outcomes in the gain-framed conditions and no preferences in the loss-framed conditions. These differences held regardless of the consequence severity of the scenario. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these results and offer directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-141
Number of pages11
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Taylor & Francis.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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