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Monster Appetite: Effects of Message Framing on Nutritional Choices in a Digital Game Environment

Authors:

Abstract

Americans' health has reached a dangerous epidemic of obesity and diabetes from over consumption and unhealthy food choices, one that creates disparities among race, ethnicity, region, and income. In response to this national health threat, a body of research on games for health that strive to motivate individuals to adopt healthy behaviors are growing. The most typical approach to many health games is to provide positive reinforcement for healthy behaviors. However, there exist other approaches that may have potential to further enhance health awareness and experience, for example, by rewarding players to make the conventionally unhealthy behaviors in a game environment to solidify their original belief in healthy behaviors, otherwise known as inoculation theory. In this study, we explore two novel approaches to encourage healthy nutritional choices in real life by vicariously experiencing an unconventional, subversively-framed or inoculation-based calorie game, Monster Appetite (MA), through monster avatars. We developed MA, and an online snack shop, Snackazon, to test whether subversive or inoculation gameplay led to healthy snack shopping behavior. There were two treatment conditions: 1) subversive framing-MA's original goal to consume the highest-calorie snack items to keep their monster avatar overweight, sluggish, and inactive was maintained and the end-of-day pop-up messages were negatively-framed, and 2) inoculation-based framing: MA's goal was flipped (consume the lowest-calorie snack items to keep their monster avatar slim and active) and the pop-up messages were positively-framed. The two conditions with pre-existing information on participants food habits (snacking behavior) resulted in a 2 x 1 study design (N=225). The study showed that even if participants indicated low behavioral intention to look up caloric information, on Snackazon both subversive and inoculation treatment participants showed statistically significant nutritional information seeking behavior (ISB) for the online snack items, and ISB was significantly correlated with what snack items they chose and the reasons they list for choosing those snacks. This result fit well with the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as it emphasizes the progression from awareness and attention to a health issue, followed by intention to change, culminating in actual behavioral change. In addition, for the inoculation group, participants showed a statistically significant increase in healthier snack choices post-gameplay compared to pre-gameplay. However, while the subversive group did not choose healthier snacks, they provided statistically significantly healthier reasons for making their snack choices. The study shows promising results for unconventional approaches for nutrition game-based behavioral change studies as well as support for traditional theories such as TPB.
Monster Appetite: Effects of Message Framing on
Nutritional Choices in a Digital Game Environment
Maria Hwang, mlh2169@cumc.columbia.edu
Lena Mamykina, om2196@cumc.columbia.edu
Society of Behavioral Medicine
Mar 31–Apr 1, 2017
Americans’ health has reached a dangerous epidemic of obesity and diabetes from over
consumption and unhealthy food choices, one that creates disparities among race, ethnicity,
region, and income. In response to this national health threat, a body of research on games
for health that strive to motivate individuals to adopt healthy behaviors are growing. The most
typical approach to many health games is to provide positive reinforcement for healthy behav-
iors. However, there exist other approaches that may have potential to further enhance health
awareness and experience, for example, by rewarding players to make the conventionally un-
healthy behaviors in a game environment to solidify their original belief in healthy behaviors,
otherwise known as inoculation theory.
In this study, we explore two novel approaches to encourage healthy nutritional choices in
real life by vicariously experiencing an unconventional, subversively-framed or inoculation-
based calorie game, Monster Appetite (MA), through monster avatars. We developed MA, and
an online snack shop, Snackazon, to test whether subversive or inoculation gameplay led to
healthy snack shopping behavior. There were two treatment conditions: 1) subversive framing
- MAs original goal to consume the highest-calorie snack items to keep their monster avatar
overweight, sluggish, and inactive was maintained and the end-of-day pop-up messages were
negatively-framed, and 2) inoculation-based framing: MAs goal was flipped (consume the
lowest-calorie snack items to keep their monster avatar slim and active) and the pop-up mes-
sages were positively-framed. The two conditions with pre-existing information on participants
food habits (snacking behavior) resulted in a 2 x 1 study design (N=225).
The study showed that even if participants indicated low behavioral intention to look up
caloric information, on Snackazon both subversive and inoculation treatment participants showed
statistically significant nutritional information seeking behavior (ISB) for the online snack
items, and ISB was significantly correlated with what snack items they chose and the reasons
they list for choosing those snacks. This result fit well with the Theory of Planned Behavior
(TPB) as it emphasizes the progression from awareness and attention to a health issue, fol-
lowed by intention to change, culminating in actual behavioral change. In addition, for the
inoculation group, participants showed a statistically significant increase in healthier snack
choices post-gameplay compared to pre-gameplay. However, while the subversive group did
not choose healthier snacks, they provided statistically significantly healthier reasons for mak-
ing their snack choices. The study shows promising results for unconventional approaches for
nutrition game-based behavioral change studies as well as support for traditional theories such
as TPB.
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