The graphic side of fear: The effects of anti-tobacco graphic threat appeals

LaTasha R Swanson, Purdue University


Many public health organizations have proposed and implemented campaigns and policies involving graphic ads or warnings to deter individuals from smoking. The current study evaluated how high-cigarette dependent smokers evaluate these messages compared to low-cigarette dependent smokers using a mixed, 3 x 2 factorial design. A pilot study involving focus groups, interviews, and evaluation questionnaires (N=10) was conducted to classify graphic threat appeals and develop stimulus materials for the primary study. For the primary study, three graphic threat appeal conditions were evaluated by Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) users (N=200). Findings suggested that the graphicness of the images significantly influenced arousal, aversive response, and persuasion. However, high-cigarette dependent smokers evaluated messages as less aversive than low-cigarette dependent smokers to the graphicness in messages. Additionally, low-cigarette dependent smokers may be at greater risk for experiencing cognitive overload and reallocating cognitive resources to defensive responses. Implications of these findings and recommendations for future research and message design are discussed.




Mattson, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Communication|Public health|Behavioral Sciences

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