Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fear appeal in health campaigns - smoking

Yesterday, I was on Belgian national television for the popular science show "Ook Getest op Mensen". Each episode, they try to tackle a few behavioral questions using quasi-scientific methodology. This week's episode, among others, focused on public health campaigns and sigarette packaging using visual and extreme fear appeals. As others have already claimed, those extreme fear appeals do not always result in adaptive consequences (see Witte & Allen, 2000). If not accompanied by easy to achieve goals or action plans or if they do not bolster self-efficacy, such fear appeals may result in maladaptive behaviors. The rationale is that fear appeals increase negative emotions and to reduce these negative emotions, we will do something maladaptive like avoiding the message or minimizing it. The real-life study we did produced some nice anecdotical insights.

An excerpt of the show can be watched here: 

"Ook Getest op Mensen" also tries to include a real-life demonstration to the audience and consulted the team in designing this experiment. They made two different posters, one control poster expressing a positive thing and one anti-smoking poster using extreme fear appeals in the imagery. Both were set up and a couple of hundred yards further, pedestrians were interviewed about how well they remembered these posters and what they think of the picture as a campaign image.

For the control picture, we saw an average recognition of about 60%. It did not matter whether interviewees were smokers, ex-smokers or non-smokers. Interestingly, for the anti-smoking image, there was a difference. Again, about 60% of ex-smokers and non-smokers had a good memory for the image. Smokers, however, suddenly dropped to a 40% recognition score.

As a side observation, which was not included in the show, we found that ex-smokers significantly differed from both smokers and non-smokers in the appreciation of the image as a campaign picture. They were more likely to appreciate it, as if they feel good being remembered about their efforts to overcome a previous smoking habit.

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