Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Bobi Ivanov


Situated within the context of college students’ excessive drinking behaviors, the current study drew from dissonance theory, self-consistency theory, and hypocrisy induction methodology to evaluate the utility of the Communication Theory of Identity within persuasive health message design. Specifically, it examined whether hypocrisy induction manipulations that focused participants on salient identity layers made them mindful of corresponding identity gaps, which in turn caused them to experience cognitive dissonance that they sought to resolve by reporting intentions to change their excessive drinking behavior.

Participants (N = 279) completed an online experiment in which they were randomly assigned either to one of four treatment conditions (i.e., traditional hypocrisy, personal-enacted identity gap hypocrisy, relational-enacted identity gap hypocrisy, communal-enacted identity gap hypocrisy) or one control condition. When compared to those in the control condition, participants in the personal-enacted and communal-enacted identity gap hypocrisy conditions reported significantly lower future intentions to engage in excessive drinking. There were no significant differences across conditions, however, in terms of identity gap magnitude or level of cognitive dissonance. These findings are noteworthy, considering that identity gap magnitude was significantly positively related to levels of cognitive dissonance and significantly negatively related to future intentions to engage in excessive drinking. Analyses also explored potential moderating variables in this process, finding that issue involvement moderated the relationship between level of cognitive dissonance and future intentions to engage in excessive drinking, such that intentions were lowest when cognitive dissonance was high and issue involvement was low. Finally, analyses indicated that there was a significant association between experimental condition and level of state reactance, such that participants in the personal-enacted identity gap hypocrisy condition experienced significantly lower levels of state reactance than participants in other conditions. Moreover, there was a significant positive relationship between identity gap magnitude and level of state reactance.

The theoretical and contextual implications of these results are discussed. Namely, these results affirm that making message recipients mindful of identity gaps can be a viable persuasive health message design strategy; however, they also suggest that more research is needed to understand how best to make message recipients mindful of identity gaps and how best to integrate identity gaps into persuasive health messages.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)