Healthy stories: How a little story can go a long way

Health Narratives

Healthy stories: How a little story can go a long way

Stories can be used to effectively convey important health information. Stories help people grasp complex health issues and connect to them on an intuitive level.

In one of our projects, John de Wit, Ray Vet and me have been examining if stories can help communicate risk and decrease barriers to Hepatitis B vaccination among men who have sex with men.


Why was this necessary?

In The Netherlands vaccination was offered for free to risk groups but not many of them showed up in spite of active attempts to communicate the necessity and usefulness of vaccination. In our project we examined how to increase vaccination rates. We compared the effects of previous communication efforts and short stories, or testimonials, in which a person shared his experience and his emotions about becoming infected with hepatitis B (risk message), or shared how he overcame the fear of being judged as promiscuous when getting hepatitis B shots. We also examined if implementation intentions could bridge the intention-behaviour gap that is often observed with regard to health goals.

Stories can take away hurdles and increase healthy behaviours

In different online studies we asked men who have sex with men to read one of several different experimental messages, some of which contained stats and numbers, whereas others included testimonials. We experimentally varied information about risk, social barriers, and implementation intentions. We then compared the effects of these different messages on risk perceptions, perceived social norms, vaccination attitudes, intentions and vaccination behavior. Findings showed that stories helped convey risk information, decrease perceived social barriers to get a shot, and increased vaccination intentions. Participants who formed strong and complete implementation intentions were most likely to get vaccinated.

We will further examine the power of stories in the HealthNar project in the upcoming years.


Vet, R., de Wit, J., & Das, E. (2014). The role of implementation intention formation in promoting hepatitis B vaccination uptake among men who have sex with men. International Journal of STD & AIDS, 25(2), 122–129. DOI: 10.1177/0956462413495012

Vet, R. De Wit, J.B.F. & Das, E. (2011). The efficacy of social role models in persuasive health messages to increase motivation to obtain vaccination against hepatitis B among men who have sex with men. Health Education Research, 26, 192-200.

De Wit, J. B. F., Vet, R., & Das, E. (2008). What works best: Objective statistics or a personal testimonial? An assessment of the persuasive effects of different types of message evidence on risk perception. Health Psychology, 27, 110-115.

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