Are We More Reactive to Persuasive Health Messages When They Appear in Our Customized Interfaces? The Role of Sense of Identity and Sense of Control

Jinping Wang, Media Department, Duquesne University.
S Shyam Sundar, Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University.


Online users today are provided with a variety of customization tools to build their own information environment. A growing number of public health messages reach their target audiences via these digital venues. Given the deeply personal and individualized nature of customized environments, do online users show lesser reactance to persuasive health messages? Or, are they more likely to show reactance because they feel intruded upon? We conducted a 2 (Customization: present vs. absent) × 2 (Message threat: high vs. low) experiment (N = 145) to find out. Data showed that interface customization increases the sense of control and sense of identity among users. Sense of control is positively associated with threat to freedom of action, causing more affective reactance. In contrast, a sense of identity is negatively associated with anger toward the persuasive message. Theoretical and practical implications for online health campaigns are discussed.