Social comparison and persuasion in health communications

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Oxford University Press


Two basic social processes, persuasion and social comparison, have figured prominently in the development and implementation of health communications since the early 1950s. This chapter reviews relevant theory and evidence from basic persuasion and comparison research to demonstrate the centrality of the self-concept for understanding changes in personal belief, opinion, self-efficacy, and behavior change. Then, selective evidence and implications from health communications research are reviewed: Interventions using self-affirmation; gain-loss framing and graphic warning labels/fear appeals from the persuasion area; and interventions using normative provision, social comparison interventions, and support groups from the comparison area. In the final section, personalized, tailored health-communication approaches that capitalize on both persuasion and comparison paradigms are described. For intervention and public-policy purposes, it is recommended that communications that increase personal relevance, cognitive elaboration, and assimilation to health role-models have the strongest potential for creating lasting health behavior change.

Chapter of

The Oxford Handbook of Health Communication, Behavior Change, and Treatment Adherence


Leslie R. Martin
M. Robin DiMatteo