Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills 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, February 15, 2013


This anti-smoking advertisement was released by the Department of Health in the U.K. recently. It emphasizes the danger of smoking by telling recipients cigarettes may cause a body mutation which triggers cancer.  This advertisement contains quite strong message against smoking; however, strong argument may not always persuade people.

Tormala and Petty (2002) demonstrated that a strong counterargument may make people more resistant against it.

 In the experiment 1, Participants were showed a persuasive message about their university’s new policy of introducing comprehensive examinations before graduation. The policy was a counter-attitudinal message for the participants, and they were told that the policy is real and will be actually introduced within a year. This condition aimed to motivate participants more resistant against the message. The message was presented to the participants with either strong or weak argument. In the strong argument condition, the reasons of introducing the policy were logical and strong such as an improvement of overall average grade and an increase of average starting salary. In the weak argument condition, the reason was weak and illogical such as a national trend of introducing exams and possibility of comparing average exam scores among universities. After participants watched the message, they were asked to make counter arguments as many as possible. Attitude certainty and attitude towards the policy were also measure at the end of experiment. As a result, researchers found that logical and persuasive message made participants more resistant against the policy. 

In the experiment 2, the researchers used the same procedure as the experiment 1 but added the measures investigating how much participants agree/disagree, like/dislike, and feel fair/unfair about the policy. Also, after participants read the message, perceived message strength and success of their resistance against the message were investigated. From the experiment, researchers found that the resistance against the message increased the certainty of own attitude when counter-message was perceived as strong. Also, when the participants resisted against the message, they perceived the message as weak.

From the results of the experiments, it can be suggested that a strong counterargument may not persuade people, thus, the advertisement shown above may not be effective to convince people quit smoking. The strong message which the advertisement holds may cause strong resistance in recipients. 

Here is another advertisement which might be ineffective for the same reason as above. This is made by Australian Government in 2012 for the national drug campaign. 

Tormala, Z. L., & Petty, R. E. (2002). What doesn't kill me makes me stronger: The effects of resisting persuasion on attitude certainty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology83(6), 1298.


  1. Interesting. Thanks for the discussion of Tormala. This ad was posted once already...please include another ad at the bottom which could be given the same criticism. Thanks.


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