Targeted communication about health behaviors seems to be more effective than mass communication in which undifferentiated audiences receive identical messages. Regulatory focus is psychological variable that can be used to build two target groups: promotion-focused or prevention-focused people. It is hypothesized that targeting messages to an individual’s regulatory focus creates regulatory fit and is more successful to promote a physically active lifestyle than nonfit messages. Two different print messages promoting a physically active lifestyle derived from regulatory focus theory (promotion message vs. prevention message) were randomly assigned to N = 98 participants after measuring their regulatory focus. It was examined whether regulatory fit between the regulatory focus and the assigned print message would lead to more positive evaluations in the dependent variables inclination toward the message (preference for the message), intention to perform the behavior, prospective and retrospective feelings associated with the behavior (positive and negative), and perceived value of the behavior directly after reading the message. Hierarchical linear regression analyses revealed that regulatory fit led to stronger intentions in the prevention-message condition and more prospective positive and retrospective positive feelings associated with the behavior in the promotion-message condition in contrast to the nonfit conditions. Prospective positive feelings associated with the behavior mediated the effect of regulatory fit on intention. The results partly provided support for the regulatory fit concept. Matching print messages to the regulatory focus of individuals seems to be a useful approach to enhance physical activity motivation. Future studies should include an objective measure of physical activity behavior.
Ines Pfeffer is with the Department of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Faculty of Sport Science, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.