Abandoned Animal Adoption: The Influence Of Message Framing
In South Korea, about 100,000 animals are abandoned annually by their guardians, and the majority of them will be euthanized. As with animal abandonment in Western countries, it’s a huge problem, with effects that can reverberate far and wide. Abandoned animals can wind up overcrowding shelters, becoming street animals, or otherwise perishing from a lack of care.
In this study, researchers tried changing the wording of different messages to see how they affected peoples’ willingness to adopt abandoned animals. 165 Korean students with an equal gender balance were recruited to take part in the experiment. It had a 2×2 design to look at the interaction between message framing (whether messages focuses on positive or negative outcomes) and issue involvement.
Issue involvement was measured by three questions about how personally relevant the campaign was, how interested the respondent was in adopting abandoned animals, and the extent to which the participant was involved in animal rights campaigns. Participants were shown either a positively or a negatively framed poster about animal adoption, then asked to fill out a questionnaire. Willingness to adopt was measured as a binary yes or no choice, rather than a scale that asked about likelihood of adoption.
The researchers created two posters, one with a positively framed message and one with a negatively framed one. The positive poster contained the message “Only your care and adoption can save the precious lives of abandoned animals from the threat of euthanasia.” The negatively framed poster contained the message “Without your adoption, the vicious cycle of euthanasia will continue forever.”
The results showed that when people were highly involved with the issue, they were more likely to be willing to adopt an abandoned animal. For these highly involved people, messages that highlighted the potential negative outcomes for abandoned animals if they didn’t adopt were more persuasive than positively framed messages. The effects of message framing disappeared for people who cared less about the issue, perhaps because they less likely to process the message in detail.
For animal advocates, the shows that, if you’re targeting people who already care about your campaign issue, you may be able to improve your impact by using negatively framed messages. However, it’s not clear how much this effect is particular to the South Korean context, and more study is needed to know if such lessons would be applicable elsewhere.