Abstract: How and when does Tailoring Change you? An Examination on the Effects of Regulatory Fit in Different HPV Prevention Behaviors

◆ Bingjing Mao, University of Miami
◆ Soyoon Kim, University of Miami

Regulatory focus theory suggests that the persuasiveness of a health intervention message increases when it creates an experience of regulatory fit by matching the framing valence of a message with individuals’ motivational orientations, namely, regulatory focus (Higgins, 1997; see Ludolph & Schulz, 2015). Specifically, gain-framed messages delivered to the promotion-focused individuals contribute to more attitudinal and behavioral changes than those delivered to the prevention-focused individuals (leading to the experience of promotion-focused regulatory fit), whereas loss-framed messages would be more effective for prevention-focused individuals, compared to promotion-focused people (leading to the experience of prevention-focused regulatory fit) (Higgins, 2000).

Consistent with previous persuasion theories, such as the Extended Parallel Process Model (Witte, 1992) and the Health Belief model (Rosenstock, 1974), the effect of regulatory fit increases people’s perceptions of threats and efficacy, which, in turn, lead to a higher compliance with message recommendations (Updegraff & Rothman, 2013). However, the empirical evidence supporting these mediation pathways is still limited. Additionally, previous studies yielded mixed results, failing to provide a consistent process concerning regulatory fit effect. Thus, in the present study, we analyzed how the experience of different types of regulatory fit and regulatory misfit (created by a mismatch between the framing valence of the message and individuals’ motivational orientations) influenced attitudes and intentions through perceptions of threats and efficacy in two types of HPV prevention behaviors demonstrating different risk levels—consistent condom use and HPV DNA testing.

To test our hypotheses, we recruited 481 female participants through an online recruitment service. In an online experiment, the participants were randomly assigned to one of the two HPV prevention behaviors. Their experiences of regulatory fit or regulatory misfit conditions were manipulated by matching or mismatch their reported regulatory focus with the framing valence of the message (promotion-focused regulatory fit: match between a gain-framed message and a promotion focus; prevention-focused regulatory fit: match between a loss-framed message and a prevention focus; promotion-focused regulatory misfit: mismatch between a loss-framed message and a promotion focus; prevention-focused regulatory fit: mismatch between a gain-framed message and a prevention focus). The model 4 of the PROCESS macro was used for analysis.
The study results suggested that, for the condom use behavior, the experience of a promotion-focused regulatory fit was likely to generate the most favorable persuasion effects through increased perceptions of response efficacy, self-efficacy, and severity, while the experience of a promotion-focused regulatory misfit was the most effective in leading to positive attitude toward HPV DNA testing and stronger intention to receive it every 5 years by generating higher level of response efficacy, self-efficacy, and susceptibility.

These findings contributed to the growing body of regulatory fit research by providing explanations for the conflicting findings in previous studies. The regulatory fit effect is salient only for low-risk behavior. By contrast, experiencing a regulatory misfit facilitated attitudinal and intentional changes in high-risk behavior. In addition, our study supports the mediation roles of threats and efficacy beliefs on both of the two effects.