Tag Archives: commercials

Texting and Scare Tactics

TextingA recent Welsh video that addresses the dangers of texting while driving has become an internet phenomenon with over 7 million views to date. The video, which will be shown in schools in this fall, features a teenager texting while driving, resulting in a graphic car crash that kills her passengers.

The creators of the ad argue that in order to capture the attention of teenagers, it is necessary for the video to be shocking and violent. However, some critics are skeptical about whether the ad will actually reduce the behavior, especially in the long-term. Health and social psychological research has looked extensively at the efficacy of fear arousing messages when it comes to changing behaviors.

In a recent article, Cameron and Chan (2008) discuss what persuasive elements may help in promoting health behaviors. It is commonly assumed that messages that evoke fear will prompt action; however, many studies have shown that highly evocative messages may actually lead to avoidance and fail to change behavior. In the health communication field, they find that fear arousing messages can be effective but only when coupled with other factors. For instance, when joined with an implementation plan, these messages have a better chance of changing behavior. Moreover, imagery may be effective in persuasive messages but only to the extent that it can directly relate the threat to the recommended plan of action.

While the commercial may be successful in garnering attention, ongoing research brings into question how effective it will be in terms of permanently changing behavior.

square-eye New York Times: Driven to Distraction

square-eye Cameron, L. D., & Chan, C. K. (2008). Designing Health Communications: Harnessing the Power of Affect, Imagery, and Self-Regulation.

Gender, spiders, and media

090908_spiderOf the literally thousands of scientific journal articles published every month, only a select few receive media attention. From among the new research, the BBC recently chose to report on an infant study claiming a disproportionate fear of spiders among women.

The study reportedly showed 20 babies—10 boy and 10 girl—pictures of spiders paired with happy versus fearful human faces. The girls “looked longer” at the picture of the spider/happy face, evidently showing “that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy” when paired with a spider.

The BBC follows the leap of the researcher to conclude that evolutionary biology determines that women (who were “natural child protectors”) are more likely to be afraid of animals.

Notwithstanding the alleged evolutionary implications (some research has linked phobias to nurture, rather than nature), research has shown links between gender stereotypes and media content. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology even revealed measurable effects on cognition from exposure to stereotyped commercials.

It’s frightening, to say the least, that behavior might be related to gender stereotypes. While doubtful that pre-arachniphobe females will read the BBC article, existing gender stereotypes are still reinforced, while all of those other scientific articles remain unnoticed.