Does regulatory fit lead to more effective health communication? Asystematic review

Ramona Ludolph, Peter J. Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Many of today's threats to public health arise from people's lifestyle. Hence, the public's compliance with advice given for health promotion and disease prevention has to be enhanced. Much research traces back the efficacy of health promotion messages to message qualities, while other work focuses on recipient qualities. Regulatory focus theory posits inter-individual differences in motivational orientation, namely a promotion or prevention focus, and offers a unique chance to look at message and recipient variables at the same time (. Higgins, 1997). Whereas a promotion-focused individual tries to achieve desired end-states, someone with a prevention focus is rather vigilant. If individuals' goal pursuit strategies match their regulatory orientation, they experience regulatory fit, which increases the perceived persuasiveness of health messages (. Higgins, 2000). Such a match can be evoked by particularly framed messages that highlight a person's regulatory orientation. Thus, the assumption of regulatory fit goes beyond the concept of gain- and loss-framing. To assess whether regulatory fit contributes to the effectiveness of health communication, a systematic review was conducted.An extensive systematic search led to the inclusion of 30 studies, for which data were extracted and quality appraised. Findings were summarized using narrative synthesis. Most studies (n=23) were conducted in the USA and assessed the effects of regulatory fit on behavioral intention (n=21). Nineteen experiments used samples of university students, and the health context chosen most often was a healthy diet (n=7). Sixteen experiments manipulated regulatory orientation whereas chronic regulatory focus was measured ten times. The majority of studies confirmed that regulatory fit enhanced the effectiveness of health messages, which did not vary much across different health domains or outcomes. Regulatory fit is a promising approach for tailoring health messages as the synergy effects of regulatory fit increase their effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-150
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Behavior change
  • Framing
  • Health communication
  • Health education
  • Persuasion
  • Regulatory fit
  • Regulatory focus theory
  • Systematic review


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