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.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Anti-Meth Campaign






The Meth-Project produced this advert to demonstrate the horrific effects that Meth use can cause the body, using a fear-appeal tactic. It aims to provoke a sense of fear associated with Meth use, to prevent people from wanting to use it. This advert is more hard-hitting and clear-cut than other anti-drug TV campaigns, therefore making it memorable. However, the impact of the message is detracted from due to the high levels of fear induced in the viewer, which may actually cause resistance to the message. Fear appeals aim to create emotional arousal, causing a person to change their behaviour to prevent that uncomfortable arousal (Cohen, 1957). Research has suggested that high levels of fear are actually less effective than moderate levels in causing attitude change (Janis, 1967). The extreme images of the effects of meth on the body in this film should scare viewers into avoidance of the drug. However, instead this high level of fear likely desensitizes the viewer to the message (Janis, 1967).

A study by Janis and Terwilliger (1962) induced participants into either a high fear condition (reading strong statements about the impact of smoking on cancer) or a mild fear condition (reading mild statements about the impact of smoking on cancer). Participants were then questioned about their attitudes to their own smoking behaviour. Significantly more participants in the mild fear condition changed their attitudes to anti-smoking during the interview, showing it was more effective than the high fear induction. High fear may cause resistance to the message.

Graphic and horrific images may be memorable, but can cause a person to retract themselves from the situation, and therefore not see it as personally relevant, if they have no personal experience of this. Therefore, a more effective way for film to be used as a persuasive message would to reduce the level of fear to something more moderate, such as by using less graphic images.




Cohen, A.R. (1957). Need for cognition and order of communication as determinants of opinion change. In C. I. Hovland (Ed.), The order of presentation in persuasion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Janis, I.L. (1967). Effects of fear arousal on attitude change: recent developments in theory and experimental research. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 3, 166-224.

Janis, I.L., & Terwilliger, R.F. (1962). An experimental study of psychological resistances to fear arousing communications. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 65, 403-410.

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