Persuasive Health Communication
Making decisions related to health – physical, mental and emotional well-being – can be a matter of life and death. This is why governments invest billions of dollars annually in health education. But health promotional campaigns do not always achieve their desired objectives. In a series of award-winning research projects, Associate Professor Dr Timothy Fung and his research team in the HKBU Department of Communication Studies have been developing persuasive strategies that may greatly improve the effectiveness of these vital messages.
Dr Fung has been focusing on the pressing issue of organ donation. Statistics from the Hong Kong Hospital Authority reveal that in 2019, the total number of kidney donations was 57, as against a total of 2,268 patients awaiting transplants. Scepticism about organ donation can often be traced to lack of awareness and, sometimes, cultural superstitions. Myths surrounding organ donation include the belief that it is a desecration of the human body – living or dead – while some cultures believe a person is no longer whole and functional once an organ has been donated. One way to debunk these myths and bridge the communication gap is to relate the successful experiences of others. By incorporating inspired storytelling as a form of persuasive message, people can learn from these stories and replicate them. Dr Fung’s team developed a narrative-based strategy using storytelling as a way to persuade potential donors. The strategy has been adopted in the creation of an animated video, “Say your Wish, Save a Life”, used to promote family discussions about organ donation.
While health communication researchers recognise storytelling as an effective method of persuasion and health behavioural change, it was unclear which story features and methods are most effective. In a grant-funded study, Dr Fung examined how presenting a story in a counterfactual manner might enhance patients’ adherence to treatment regimens. The study, which won the Top Faculty paper at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s 2018 Conference, found that using a counterfactual thinking strategy – focusing on what might have been – can trigger greater anticipated regret and mental simulation. This, in turn, can change the audience’s attitude and behavioural intention. To put this strategy to the test, Dr Fung and his team designed separate animated videos employing counterfactual thinking-based storytelling to promote treatment adherence among patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis, and to persuade organ donors to reveal their wishes to their families. Both proved effective.
The study identified emotional responses, such as uncertainty and anxiety about certain health issues, as factors that can motivate people to change their risky health behaviours. Dr Fung has been contracted by the Department of Health in Hong Kong to produce two live-action promotional videos, “My Family Doctor Walk with Me”, to advocate for the family doctor healthcare model. His award-winning research output encourages health promotion practitioners in Hong Kong to employ evidence-based and theory-driven strategies to design persuasive health campaigns, rather than rely on their intuition and experience.
Department of Health, Hong Kong (2020). Statistics (Milestones of Hong Kong Organ Transplantation), https://www.organdonation.gov.hk/eng/statistics.html
Narrative Persuasion and Treatment Adherence (A Counterfactual-based Story)
Say your wish save a life
My Family Doctor Walks with Me
My Family Doctor
- Timothy K. F. Fung (2019) The Role of Counterfactual Thinking in Narrative Persuasion: Its Impact on Patients’ Adherence to Treatment Regimen (Health Communication)
34:12, 1482-1493, DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2018.1500432https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30058843/
Top Faculty Paper Award in Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Project Team Members
Dr Timothy Fung
Department of Communication Studies
School of Communication
Tel: (852) 3411 7381
Dr Kelvin Lee
Academy of Film
School of Communication
Tel: (852) 3411 5136
Dr MF Lam