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Applying Framing Techniques to Promote Gerontechnology Acceptance in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, like many other regions across the globe, is experiencing a significant demographic shift characterized by population ageing. The rapid increase in life expectancy and declining birth rates have contributed to a steady rise in the proportion of older adults within the city’s population. According to the latest data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, individuals aged 65 and above constitute over 20.5% of the total population, and this figure is projected to rise further in the coming years. As Hong Kong grapples with the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing society, the role of gerontechnology in enhancing the lives of older adults becomes increasingly crucial. However, acceptance and adoption of gerontechnology among older adults remains a complex issue. This blog explores my research on the application of framing techniques as a means to promote gerontechnology acceptance in Hong Kong, shedding light on innovative technology for older adults.

In recent years, Hong Kong has witnessed the emergence of various gerontechnology initiatives aimed at addressing the needs of its ageing population. One notable example is the Gerontech and Innovation Expo cum Summit (GIES). Jointly hosted by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS), and co-organised with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), the GIES is the largest gerontechnology public education event in Hong Kong. This initiative not only solicited support and aroused attention from different parties but also provided the general public with an opportunity to explore and learn about various gerontechnology and solutions. Higher institutions also devoted efforts to promoting gerontechnology. For example, the University of Hong Kong’s Sau Po Centre on Ageing (HKUCoA) conducted different studies related to gerontechnology led by Professor Vivian Lou. These studies explore the effectiveness of humanoid companion robots in long-term care, the acceptance of social robots with emotional intelligence, multidisciplinary collaborations on exoskeleton development, and the intention to use robotic exoskeletons by older adults.

These initiatives highlight the growing recognition of the potential of gerontechnology in improving the quality of life and well-being of older adults in Hong Kong. However, despite the availability of such innovative solutions, the acceptance and adoption of gerontechnology among older adults remains a significant challenge that needs to be addressed. Several factors contribute to this low acceptance, including limited digital literacy, concerns about privacy and data security, and cultural perceptions surrounding technology use among older adults. Additionally, older adults may face challenges in adapting to new technologies due to unfamiliarity or difficulty in navigating complex user interfaces. These factors create barriers that hinder the widespread acceptance and utilization of gerontechnology in Hong Kong, underscoring the need for effective strategies to address these concerns and promote acceptance among older adults.

Framing techniques offer a promising approach to address the challenges of low acceptance and adoption of soft wearable robots among older adults in Hong Kong. Soft wearable robots, also known as soft exosuits or assistive exoskeletons, are innovative technological devices designed to assist mobility and manipulability (e.g., the iREACH Project led by Professor Ning Xi: Unlink traditional rigid exoskeletons, soft wearable robots utilize flexible and lightweight materials, making them more comfortable and adaptable for daily use. These robots can provide assistance and support to older adults by augmenting their strength, stability, and endurance, thereby extending their mobility and enabling them to perform everyday activities with greater ease. However, despite the potential benefits, the acceptance of soft wearable robots among older adults can be influenced by various factors. By strategically framing the benefits and potential of these soft wearable robots, we can shape older adults’ attitudes and increase their acceptance of this transformative technology.

In my study, a Persuasive Senior Technology Acceptance Model (PSTAM) is proposed. We conducted a randomized experiment to examine the effect of persuasive health messages on enhancing the technology acceptance of wearable robots among older adults. The study involved 176 older adults aged 50 to 74 in Hong Kong. We employed a 2 (message framing: gain versus loss) x 2 (temporal framing: distal versus proximal) design to investigate the impact of different message and temporal framings on technology acceptance. The results of our experiment revealed that gain-framed messages had a significant positive effect on behavioural intention, primarily mediated by increased perceived health benefits associated with using wearable robots. Moreover, our findings demonstrated the moderating role of temporal framing in two pathways: first, between message framing and perceived health benefits, and second, between perceived health benefits and behavioural intention. These results indicate that the effectiveness of message framing and the perceived health benefits of wearable robots can be influenced by the temporal perspective presented in the messages.

Based on our study, we recommend using proximally framed messages that highlight the gained benefits to increase the acceptance of wearable robots among older adults. This approach aligns with the intention to promote independent living and ageing in place, as proximal framing emphasizes immediate and tangible benefits that can enhance older adults’ quality of life. By employing persuasive messages that emphasize gained benefits in the context of wearable robots, we can effectively enhance older adults’ acceptance and utilization of this technology, fostering greater independence and well-being.

In conclusion, this blog post has explored the application of framing techniques to promote the acceptance of soft wearable robots among older adults in Hong Kong. The low acceptance and adoption of this transformative technology presents challenges that can be addressed through strategic framing. By highlighting the perceived health benefits and leveraging persuasive health messages, we can shape attitudes and enhance acceptance among older adults. Our research findings further support the effectiveness of gain-framed messages and the moderating role of temporal framing in promoting behavioural intention. By embracing soft wearable robots, older adults in Hong Kong can experience enhanced mobility, independence, and overall well-being, enabling them to age gracefully and maintain their desired lifestyles. Moving forward, it is essential for researchers, policymakers, and technology developers to collaborate in implementing these framing strategies and promoting the widespread acceptance of soft wearable robots, ultimately empowering older adults to lead fulfilling lives in an increasingly digital era.

About the author

Clio Yuen Man Cheng was a Visiting Student at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing from 1 June 2023 to 31 August 2023. She is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, The University of Hong Kong (supervised by Professor Vivian W. Q. Lou). She is also a Student Fellow of the Sau Po Centre on Ageing, The University of Hong Kong. Currently, Clio is engaging in a transdisciplinary project to develop intelligent robotics for elderly assistance. Her research focuses on gerontechnology acceptance and adoption through health communication. The study mentioned in this blog was supported by the Theme-based Research Scheme under The University Grants Committee [#T42-717/20-R] and the Postgraduate Scholarship under The University of Hong Kong.

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