Message framing and students’ anticipated effort—a large-scale, randomized survey experiment
Tamás Keller, Péter Szakál
We investigate how framing an information nudge impacts university students’ anticipated effort. We test the conflicting predictions of two social theories. According to prospect theory, a negatively framed nudge increases students’ anticipated effort in general. However, according to regulatory focus theory, the beneficial effect of negative framing is concentrated in prevention focus when people orient toward negative outcomes. In promotion focus, when people orient toward positive outcomes, a positively framed nudge motivates students better. We conducted a large-scale randomized survey experiment among Hungarian university students. Between different vignettes (nudges), we systematically manipulated the particular vignette’s framing and regulatory focus. In line with the predictions of prospect theory, we find that a negatively framed nudge generally increases students’ anticipated effort relative to a positively framed nudge. In contrast with the predictions of regulatory focus theory, the negative framing increases students’ anticipated effort in both prevention and promotion foci, but it boosts students’ anticipated effort more in prevention than in promotion focus. Therefore, students’ temporary induced regulatory focus does not moderate the framing effect according to the pattern predicted by the regulatory focus theory.