Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hard-Hitting images used in new anti-smoking campaign

The new anti-smoking campaign released by the department of health, uses a multitude of persuasive techniques in an attempt to encourage more smokers to quit after statistics recently showed that more than a third of smokers still think the health risks of smoking are grossly exaggerated.

The advert states that every 15 cigarettes an individual smokes, a cell mutation is triggered which can lead to cancer. The first persuasive technique is the use of the graphic imagery, which has been found to enhanced memory of the stimuli (Harris & Pashler, 2005). In their experiment Harris and Pashler (2005) presented participants with a series of emotionally charged (such as a bloody hand or dead dog) and emotionally neutral images and participants were either asked to recall the pictures they were shown or were not told it was a memory test and that the pictures were ‘to-be-ignored’ distractors. In both cases participants recall of emotionally charged stimuli was significantly greater than for neutral stimuli. Therefore using graphic imagery should enhance memory for the advert, and result in changing smoking-related beliefs and attitudes of viewers (White, Webster& Wakefield, 2008).

In addition they also use of the presumptive rhetorical question “If you could see the damage, you’d stop”, the aim of which is to push viewers to come to their own conclusions about serious health risks of smoking. This advert is playing on the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, at present the smokers which this advert is aimed at are experiencing any cognitive dissonance; ‘the health implications of smoking are seriously over-exaggerated therefore it is okay for me to smoke’. The aim of this advert is to cause cognitive dissonance by introducing the idea that smoking causes mutations which can potentially lead to cancer, therefore changing their views of the health implications of smoking, which will then lead to cognitive dissonance and the hope is that viewers will have to change their behaviour (stop smoking) in order to abolish the discomfort of the inconsistencies between their beliefs and their behaviours. (Festinger, 1957; Haplern, 1994).

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Hapler, M. T. (1994). Effect of smoking characteristics on cognitive dissonance in current and former smokers. Addictive Behaviours, 19, 209-217.
Harris, C. R., & Pashler, H. (2005). Enhanced memory for negatively emotionally charged pictures without selective rumination. Emotion, 5, 19-199.
White, V., Webster, B., & Wakefield, M. (2008). Do graphic health warning labels have an impact on adolescents’ smoking‐related beliefs and behaviours?. Addiction, 103, 1562-1571.


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