Beneath the surface: Abstract construal mindset increases receptivity to metaphors in health communications


Widespread messages use metaphoric language and imagery to prompt recipients to interpret health-related concepts in terms of dissimilar, familiar concepts (e.g., “fight the war on cancer”). When do these messages work? According to conceptual metaphor theory, thinking metaphorically involves looking past concepts superficial differences to identify their similarities at a structural level. Thus, we hypothesized that when peoples general construal mindset is oriented to focus on informations abstract meaning, not its concrete details, they would process a metaphors target health concept in ways that correspond to the dissimilar concept. Accordingly, after priming an abstract, but not concrete construal mindset framing sun exposure as enemy confrontation (vs. literally) increased cancer risk perceptions and sun-safe intentions (Study 1; n = 186); and framing smoking cessation as an arduous journey (vs. literally) increased appreciation of quitting difficulties and interest in cessation tools (Study 2; n = 244). We discuss practical and theoretical implications for improving health communication