Identifying the Most Autonomy-Supportive Message Frame in Digital Health Communication: A 2x2 Between-Subjects Experiment

Eline Suzanne Smit*, Chamoetal Zeidler, Ken Resnicow, Hein de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The effectiveness of digital health communication may be increased by enhancing autonomy supportiveness.

Objective: This study aimed to identify the most autonomy-supportive message frame within an intervention for increasing vegetable intake by testing the effect of the following 2 strategies: (1) using autonomy-supportive language and (2) providing choice.

Methods: A Web-based 2 (autonomy-supportive vs controlling language)x2 (choice vs no choice) experiment was conducted among 526 participants, recruited via a research panel. The main outcome measures were perceived autonomy support (measured using the Virtual Care Climate Questionnaire, answered with scores 1 to 5), perceived relevance (measured with one question, answered with scores 1 to 5), and overall evaluation of the intervention (measured with 1 open-ended question, answered with scores 1 to 10).

Results: Choice had a significant positive effect on the overall evaluation of the intervention (b=.12; P=.003), whereas for participants with a high need for autonomy, there was a significant positive effect on perceived relevance (b=.13; P=.02). The positive effect of choice on perceived autonomy support approached significance (b=.07; P=.07). No significant effects on any of the three outcomes were observed for language.

Conclusions: Results suggest that provision of choice rather than the use of autonomy-supportive language can be an easy-to-implement strategy to increase the effectiveness of digital forms of health communication, especially for people with a high need for autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14074
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2019


  • health communication
  • health behavior
  • personal autonomy
  • internet
  • health promotion
  • healthy diet
  • self-determination theory

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