How are online health messages processed? Using eye tracking to predict recall of information

Much research to date has focused on the effects of using illustrations in (online) health messages, however, none to date has considered the process that precedes these effects. This study uses eye tracking to gain novel insights into how individuals attend to online health information (text and illustrations) and under what conditions this attention leads to accurate recall of information.

We employed eye tracking among 55 younger (< 65 yrs.) and 42 older (≥ 65 yrs.) adults and measured their processing of online health information. The eye tracker registered their attention to the text and, if present, illustrations on the website. Afterwards, recall of information was assessed using an online questionnaire. Our results showed that when attention to text increased, older adults recalled more information, whereas younger adults did not. On the other hand, younger adults paid more attention to cognitive illustrations than older adults and recalled more information from text-illustrated information. These results are published in an article in the Journal of Health Communication by Nadine Bol, Julia van Weert, Eugène Loos, Jennifer Romano Bergstrom, Sifra Bolle and Ellen Smets. We may conclude that effective online health messages should include both effective text and illustrations to enhance younger and older adults’ motivation to spend time consuming health information. Future research could look into specific features that increase motivation to process online health messages.

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Published on 09-02-2016