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TV Dramas Can Be More Persuasive Than News Reports

Birth control study found fictional presentation swayed young women more than documentary

THURSDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Want to convince young women to use birth control? A new study says fiction may work better than non-fiction, at least when it comes to televised messages.

Women who watched an episode of "The OC" television drama about teen pregnancy were more likely to support using birth control afterward than those who saw a news report about the problems caused by teen pregnancy.

Women weren't moved to use birth control after watching the news segment, the researchers found.

"A message that is hidden inside of a story may overcome some of the resistance people have to being told how to behave," study co-author Emily Moyer-Guse, an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, said in a news release from the school. "The impact that dramatized stories have on people's beliefs and intentions depends a lot on the individual viewers, and not just the message but our results suggest the effect can be there."

The study was recently published online in the journal Human Communication Research.

The researchers recruited 353 undergraduate college students aged 18 to 25 to watch either an episode of "The OC" or a news-type segment developed for high school students by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Two weeks after watching "The OC," the women in the study were more likely to say they planned to do things to prevent pregnancy.

"One of the reasons why some people avoid safer sex behaviors is because they feel invulnerable, they have this optimistic bias that nothing bad will ever happen to them," Moyer-Guse said. "But if you vicariously experience a bad result happening to you by watching a narrative program, that may change behavior in a way that is difficult to achieve through a direct message."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on birth control.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Feb. 8, 2010

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