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Extreme negative anti-smoking ads can backfire, MU experts find
Date:8/22/2011

COLUMBIA, Mo. Health communicators have long searched for the most effective ways to convince smokers to quit. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found that using a combination of disturbing images and threatening messages to prevent smoking is not effective and could potentially cause an unexpected reaction.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Media Psychology, Glenn Leshner, Paul Bolls and Kevin Wise, co-directors of the Psychological Research on Information and Media Effects (PRIME) Lab at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, found that showing viewers a combination of threatening and disgusting television public service announcements (PSAs) caused viewers to experience the beginnings of strong defensive reactions. The researchers found that when viewers saw the PSAs with both threatening and disgusting material, they tended to withdraw mental resources from processing the messages while simultaneously reducing the intensity of their emotional responses. Leshner says that these types of images could possibly have a "boomerang effect," meaning the defensive reactions could be so strong that they cause viewers to stop processing the messages in the PSAs.

In their study, the researchers showed 49 participants anti-smoking television PSAs. Some PSAs included disgusting images and some did not. Further, some PSAs included an explicit health threat while others did not. The researchers monitored the participants' emotional responses and how much attention they paid to both types of images through self-report questions as well as through sensors that measured heart rate and physiological negative emotional response from muscle activity above the eye socket on the brow.

The researchers found the PSAs which included either a threatening message or a disgusting image resulted in greater attention, better memory, and a heightened emotional response. However, PSAs that included both threatening and disgusting images
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Contact: Nathan Hurst
hurstn@missouri.edu
573-882-6217
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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