A better understanding of identifying tailoring variables would improve message design. Tailoring to a behavior that a participant selects as one they would like to work on may increase message relevance, and thus effectiveness. This trial compared 3 groups: message tailored to physical activity as a participant-selected topic (choice), message tailored to physical activity as an expert-determined topic (expert), or nontailored message (comparison).
408 female college students received web-delivered computer-tailored messages on physical activity. Outcomes were immediate and 1-month follow-up changes in psychosocial, goal-related, and behavioral variables related to physical activity.
Participants were predominately non-Hispanic White (73.8%). Change in self-efficacy and goal commitment at immediate follow-up and vigorous physical activity at 1-month follow-up was greater in the expert versus comparison group. Change in goal commitment at immediate follow-up was lower in the choice versus expert group. In the expert group, those choosing physical activity as their selected topic perceived the goal to be easier at immediate follow-up compared with those receiving unmatched messages.
Findings supported tailoring to an expert-determined topic. However, based on the beneficial change in perceived goal difficulty when topics matched, future research should encourage synchrony between participant-selected topics and expert recommendations.