Virtual exemplars in health promotion campaigns: Heightening perceived risk and involvement to reduce soft drink consumption in young adults.

Abstract: Virtual simulations allow individuals to concretely view future negative health consequences of present dietary choices. Integrating exemplification theory with risk communication research, the effect of using virtual simulations to exemplify health risks of soft drink consumption was assessed across three weeks. A three-group pre-test, post-test, delayed post-test design (N= 62) compared the effect of three channelsof delivering health risk information—base-rate statistics, picture, and virtual simulation—embedded in a digital health promotion pamphlet. Three dimensions of risk perception (perceived likelihood, susceptibility, severity), involvement with the health issue, and soft drink consumption were measured across three weeks. Virtual exemplars were the most effective channel to increase perceived likelihood, perceived susceptibility, involvement, and soft drink consumption over time. Exemplification did not affect perceived severity. The paper discusses virtual exemplars’ potential as a powerful tool in designing effective health messages.