Using Consequence Messaging to Improve Understanding of Social Security
In this paper, we developed and evaluated “consequence messaging,” a behaviorally motivated communication strategy in which we used vignettes — video and written stories about hypothetical people — to explain the consequences of decisions. We studied two related areas where consequence messaging may improve understanding and decision-making: valuing annuities and Social Security claiming decisions. We evaluated the impact of consequence messaging by conducting a small-scale, online study on a representative sample of about 650 Americans ages 50 to 60. We randomly assigned respondents to no vignette, a video vignette, or a written vignette. Then, we assessed the impact on understanding and decision-making through a survey. We assessed understanding by asking factual questions, and assessed decision-making by asking respondents to provide advice to a hypothetical person facing various decisions about annuities and Social Security claiming. The vignettes improved understanding and decision-making for both valuing annuities and Social Security claiming decisions. The effect sizes were not significantly different across written vignettes versus video vignettes. The vignettes did not have a statistically significant effect on how respondents rated the importance of concerns related to retirement.