The Southern Center For Communication, Health & Poverty
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  Overview | Findings
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Description of Study

Principal Investigators: Dr. Lijiang Shen, Dr. Jennifer A. Samp


  • The success of public health campaigns depends on whether (a) messages are effective; and (b) if messages effects last long enough to result in behavior change.
  • Whereas emotional appeals often have limited effectiveness and unintended or boomerang effects, empathic appeals can promote intended effects while inhibiting unfavorable ones.
  • Empathic appeals can potentially be a way for a target audience to identify with a message. Empathy occurs when an audience is able to share emotions and cognitions with characters in a message and can identify with the message.

Overviews of the Studies:

  • Study 1: focused on developing a scale to measure empathic responses to health messages. Specially, we wanted to investigate the properties of a scale to measure the three dimensions of an empathic response (shared cognition, emotions, and message identification).We also hoped to understand the role of empathic response on persuasion and message effects.
  • Study 2:  used the scale validated in study one to compare the effectiveness of empathy appeals with fear and information appeals for use among low-income white, African Americans, and Latinos.

Study Design:

  • Study 1: Measures were first developed to measure empathic message processing and message empathy value.  Four items each were developed to measure (a) shared emotion; (b) shared cognition; and (c) identification with the message. 298 College students were given either high or low empathy messages about smoking and alcohol to test the measures. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to validate the scale for measuring state empathy.
  • Study 2: Using the scale from study 1, an experimental design was used. 200 low-income community participants were shown four anti-smoking PSAs (on computer) that contained either an empathy, fear or informational appeals.  


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