Characteristics of Narrative Interventions and Health Effects: A Review of the Content, Form, and Context of Narratives in Health-related Narrative Persuasion Research

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Anneke de Graaf
José Sanders
Hans Hoeken

Abstract


In recent years, many studies have been conducted on persuasive effects of narratives in a health context. A striking feature of this research area is the diversity of the narratives that are used in the various studies. Narratives that convey a health message differ widely on a large number of dimensions related to the content, form and context. We expect that these characteristics are potential explanatory factors in the effectiveness of the narratives. To provide an overview of the different characteristics of narratives in health effects research and of the persuasive effects that were found, we review 153 experimental studies on health-related narrative persuasion with a focus on the narrative stimuli. The results show that: a) with regard to the content, showing the healthy behavior in a narrative (as opposed to the unhealthy behavior with negative consequences) may be associated with effects on intention. Narratives that contain high emotional content are more often shown to have effects. b) With regard to the form, for print narratives, a first-person perspective is a promising characteristic in light of effectiveness. c) With regard to the context, an overtly persuasive presentation format does not seem to inhibit narrative persuasion. And d) other characteristics, like character similarity or the presentation medium of the narrative, do not seem to be promising characteristics for producing health effects. In addition, fruitful areas for further research can be found in the familiarity of the setting and the way a health message is embedded in the narrative. Because of the diversity of narrative characteristics and effects that were found, continued research effort is warranted on which characteristics lead to effects. The present review provides an overview of the evidence for persuasive narrative characteristics so far.


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Author Biographies

Anneke de Graaf, Centre for Language Studies (CLS) Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

 Anneke de Graaf (PhD Radboud University Nijmegen, 2010) is an assistant professor at the department of Communication and Information studies of the Radboud University Nijmegen. Her research interests include narrative persuasion and the optimization of health education for low-literate target groups. 

José Sanders, Centre for Language Studies (CLS), Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

 José Sanders is an associate professor at the department of Communication and Information studies of the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands 

Hans Hoeken, Utrecht Institute of Linguistics (UiL-OTS), Utrecht University, The Netherlands

 Hans Hoeken is a full professor at the department of Communication and Information studies of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.