Hendriks, H., & Janssen, L. (2018). Frightfully funny: Combining threat and humour in health messages for men and women. Psychology & Health, 33, 594-613. DOI: 10.1080/08870446.2017.1380812


Objective: It is imperative for public health to investigate what factors may reduce defensive responses and increase the effectiveness of health information. The present research investigated gender differences in responses to threatening health-promoting information communicated with humour.

Design: Male and female participants were exposed to a health message stressing the 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).

Main Outcome Measures: Message evaluation, message attention, and attitudes and intentions towards the behaviour were measured.

Results: Results showed that health messages were more persuasive when communicated with humour, although humour played a different role for men and women. Whereas men responded more in line with message goals when the message combined high threat with humour, women preferred the low threat humour messages.

Conclusion: 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 appeals for men and women.

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