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Narratives in health communication –a multi-disciplinary approach to strengthen understanding of the roles and uses of narratives in conveying health information and changing health behaviors

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How narratives affect the dissemination of health information

Narratives play an increasingly important role in the communication of health issues, yet little is known about their effects. An EU initiative strengthened understanding of the roles and use of narratives in conveying health information.

Digital Economy
Fundamental Research

There is a lack of knowledge about the influence of narratives in a health communication context. This is because expertise on narratives is scattered across different disciplines. The EU-funded HEALTHNAR project gathered researchers to reinforce and consolidate the emerging field of narrative health communication. To advance theory and practice in narrative health communications, HEALTHNAR established a multidisciplinary research exchange network. It shed light on the usage and functions of narratives in transmitting information and changing health behaviours. Nearly 50 person-months of secondments were carried out, with 23 international experts and 14 junior researchers visiting partner institutions. In all, 17 seminars, 12 workshops and over 160 expert meetings provided opportunities to exchange knowledge, build networks and initiate collaborative research. A series of seminars attracted about 40 participants, external researchers, policymakers and practitioners in public health and health promotion. The seminars and seven symposia contributed to knowledge transfer, and helped to guide narrative health communication practice while building the project’s profile. Researchers examined the processes that shape the success or failure of narratives in changing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours in the health domain. They found that both the authenticity of patients’ personal narratives, and crafted, fictional narratives play key roles in assisting patients and communicating health messages in different situations. Findings also showed that stories are not effective in the same way to all audience members. The HEALTHNAR team studied the role of personal characteristics and the impacts of cognitive and emotional processing in relation to a narrative’s influence. It developed a new theoretical model that describes and explains preconditions of transmission and the mechanisms that lead from story exposure to health outcomes. Project partners also investigated health behaviours through narrative methods in online settings, and considered the role and effectiveness of narratives in supporting evidence-based health interventions in this same virtual environment. HEALTHNAR delivered innovative tools for understanding what narratives can tell us about the health behaviours of people.


Narratives, health information, HEALTHNAR, health behaviours

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