Matching Message Design and Depressed Cognition: An Exploration of Attention Patterns for Gain- and Loss-Framed Depression Help-Seeking Messages
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Although disproportionally affected by depression, most depressed college students do not seek the help they need. Research has recently uncovered the potential negative effects of depression help-seeking messages if depressed cognition is not considered in the health message design process. It is unclear if depression determines whether and how individuals pay attention to gain- and loss-framed depression help-seeking messages-a mechanism that has significant implications for the strategic planning of health communication interventions. In order to enable the effective matching of message design and audience features, this study investigated attention patterns for gain (n = 75)- and loss (n = 78)-framed depression help-seeking messages using eye-tracking technology and self-report measures. The results confirmed that depression is a characteristic of risk avoidance and negative cognition. Depressed participants tended to pay more attention to disease information that was placed in a loss-framed rather than a gain-framed depression help-seeking message. Using negative message framing strategies for health messages seeking to educate about depression symptoms might therefore be a useful persuasive strategy-particularly when disseminated to vulnerable populations affected by depression. Furthermore, the present study emphasizes the effective use of eye-tracking technology in communication research.
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