Should or could? Effects of autonomy-supportive message on alcohol intake.

Published on June 1, 2019 – Earlier research showed that people are more motivated to change their behaviour particularly when they perceive autonomy. Therefore, Maria Altendorf and colleagues from the University of Amsterdam and Maastricht University tested whether the effectiveness of current online computer-tailored health interventions may be enhanced using autonomy-supportive language (e.g., using suggestive language and words such as “could” and “would” and offering choice) in comparison to a controlling language style (i.e. use of commands and words such as “must” and not suggesting choice).

They tested whether participants (N=521, 60.3% male) in an online computer-tailored alcohol reduction intervention perceived higher levels of autonomy-support or reactance, respectively. This was investigated, as research shows that many health messages are written in a controlling language, which could lead to reactance towards the message. However, the autonomy-supportive alcohol reduction messages did not lead to increased perceptions of autonomy-support. Also,  controlling messages did not lead to higher reactance. In general, participants already perceived high levels of autonomy-support, which possibly explains that neither people in the autonomy-supportive nor in the controlling condition were reactant towards the advice.  

The study was funded by the Dutch Cancer Society and the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Veni from NWO-MaGW (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research-Division for the Social Sciences) accredited to Eline S. Smit. 

Read more?  Altendorf, M.B., van Weert J.C.M., Hoving, C., Smit, E.S. (2019). Should or Could? Testing the use of autonomy-supportive language and the provision of choice in online computer-tailored alcohol reduction communication. Digital Health, 5, 1-15. Doi: 10.1177/2055207619832767

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