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.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

You wouldn't eat 20 teaspoons of sugar, would you?

The advertisement above promotes reducing consumption of soft drinks due to the amount of sugar they contain. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the world parallels the increase in soft drink consumption. The Journal also notes the link between sugar and heart disease as well as tooth decay.

In order for the advertisement to be effective, I used several persuasion techniques, namely rhetorical questions, negative valence framing and fear appeal.

The first technique you can see when you look at the advertisement is the use of a rhetorical question – a question that is asked to make a point rather than to elicit an answer. According to Ahluwalia & Burnkrant (2004), rhetorical questions generally induce the recipient to focus their attention on the message content and process it more intensively, in turn enhancing the persuasion effects of the argument presented in the message.

The bottom part of the advertisement uses two different techniques: negative valence framing and fear appeal in the sense that it presents the different diseases they might develop due to the high amounts of sugar found in soft drinks.

According to Kanouse & Hanson (1987), negative valence framing generally has more influence than positive information when presented to someone making judgments about an issue. In a study by Rothman et al. (1999), the researchers conducted two experiments to test the relative influence of gain- and loss-framed messages. In the first experiment, participants’ willingness to act after reading about a new disease was found to be a product of how the information was framed and the type of behaviour that was promoted. The second experiment extended the first one with a real health concern, i.e. gum disease. Rothman et al. found that negatively-framed messages were more effective when promoting illness-detecting behaviours than positively-framed ones.

Finally, I also used the fear appeal technique to try and “scare” the recipients of the message to quit consuming soft drinks by presenting the various diseases and conditions they might get if they continue regularly consuming soft drinks. A fear appeal works by linking a negative consequence (in this case bad health and premature death due to it) to an undesired action, i.e. consumption of soft drinks. Maddux & Rogers (1983) found that while a fear appeal communication is effective in changing attitudes, the fear-appeal message has to meet a set of requirements to be influential. In order for fear to influence behaviour, the message has to arouse fear, offer specific recommendations for overcoming the fear, and have the recipient believe they can perform the recommendation. The advertisement above attempts to induce such fear by presenting examples of various diseases that can arise from regular consumption of soft drinks, but it also offers a very specific way to get rid of the fear: stop consuming soft drinks, which I believe is an entirely possible thing for a person to do.


Ahluwalia, R., & Burnkrant, R. E. (2004). Answering questions about questions: A persuasion knowledge perspective for understanding the effects of rhetorical questions. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(1), 26-42.

Apovian, C. M. (2004). Sugar-sweetened soft drinks, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(8), 978-979.

Kanouse, D. E., & Hanson Jr, L. R. (1987). Negativity in evaluations. Preparation of this paper grew out of a workshop on attribution theory held at University of California, Los Angeles, Aug 1969.. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Maddux, J. E., & Rogers, R. W. (1983). Protection motivation and self-efficacy: A revised theory of fear appeals and attitude change. Journal of experimental social psychology, 19(5), 469-479.

Rothman, A. J., et al. (1999). The systematic influence of gain-and loss-framed messages on interest in and use of different types of health behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(11), 1355-1369.

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