The Impact of Emotions on the Persuasiveness of Detection versus Prevention Health Appeals

Meng-Hua Hsieh, Chethana Achar, and Nidhi Agrawal, 2016, 16-128

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Consider a health message about sunscreen that claims “shield yourself with sunscreen and prevent skin cancer.” This is a prevention advocacy. Contrast this with a health message promoting mammograms claiming that “early detection saves lives” and encourages women with risk of breast cancer to take the screening test. This is a detection advocacy. Despite being of interest to healthcare marketers and service providers, scant research has explored the unique psychology that drives the effectiveness of detection advocacies.

In this study, Meng-Hua Hsieh, Chethana Achar, and Nidhi Agrawal investigate the persuasiveness of detection versus prevention advocacy advertising in the health context. Building on the premise that detection actions are seen as gambles – since they involve the risk of finding out if one is ill – the authors theorize and test how contextual factors that affect risk perceptions influence the effectiveness of detection advocacies.


Across three experiments using three different health advertising contexts, the authors demonstrate that incidental emotions varying on uncertainty and valence influence the effectiveness of detection advocacies. They find that detection advocacies are more effective when individuals are feeling emotions characterized by positive uncertainty (e.g., surprise, hope) or negative certainty (e.g., anger, disgust).  

Two different psychological processes drive these effects. Under emotions characterized by higher uncertainty, positive thinking drives message effectiveness, whereas under emotions characterized by higher certainty, increased risk seeking drives persuasion. In contrast, incidental emotions varying on certainty and valence dimensions do not influence the persuasiveness of prevention advocacies.

Managerial implications

The study’s demonstration that some types of health appeals (i.e., detection advocacies), by the nature of the actions they suggest, are differentially susceptible to incidental emotional influences is novel. This research provides actionable insights to managers regarding where and when they should place health advertisements that are detection advocacies. Detection health messages are more persuasive if they are embedded in the context of television shows or situations that induce negative certainty emotions (e.g., disgust), or positive uncertainty emotions (e.g., hope).

Meng-Hua Hsieh is Assistant Professor of Marketing, School of Business Administration, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. Chethana Achar is a doctoral student in marketing and Nidhi Agrawal is Professor of Marketing and International Business, Foster School of Business, University of Washington.

Related links

Feelings and Emotions in Consumer Behavior: Marketing Implications and Challenges
Michel Tuan Pham (2011) [Conference presentation]

Understanding Emotion-based Advertising (2006) [Article]


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