Anti-tobacco public service announcements have been around for decades, designed to encourage people to quit smoking or to refrain from starting. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of two types of content commonly used in anti-tobacco ads – tobacco health threats that evoke fear and disturbing or disgusting images. They found that ads focussed on either fear or disgust increased attention and memory in viewers.
“When fear and disgust are combined in a single television ad, the ad might become too noxious for the viewer,” said Glenn Leshner, lead author of the study. “We noticed several ads in our collection of anti-tobacco public service announcements that contained very disturbing images, such as cholesterol being squeezed from a human artery, a diseased lung, or a cancer-riddled tongue. Presumably, these messages are designed to scare people so that they do not smoke. It appears that this strategy may backfire.”
The researchers measured the physiological responses of 58 viewers while the viewers watched a series of 30-second anti-tobacco ads. The ads included fear messages that communicated health threats resulting from tobacco use (lung cancer, heart disease, etc.) or disgust content that focused on negative graphic images (dirty insects, blood, organs, etc.) or both fear and disgust content.
Electrodes were placed on the viewers’ facial muscles to measure emotional responses. Attention, which was defined as the amount of mental effort participants expended to interpret the messages, was measured by taking participants’ heart rates. To measure recognition, the participants completed a visual recognition task that consisted of watching brief video scenes (one second) while pressing computer keys to indicate whether or not they believed the scene was from one of the ads they viewed during the experiment.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Missouri-Columbia