The Role of Fear and Disgust in Predicting the Effectiveness of Television Advertisements That Graphically Depict the Health Harms of Smoking
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The Role of Fear and Disgust in Predicting the Effectiveness of Television Advertisements That Graphically Depict the Health Harms of Smoking

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  • Alternative Title:
    Prev Chronic Dis
  • Description:

    Antismoking television advertisements that depict the graphic health harms of smoking are increasingly considered best practices, as exemplified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current national campaign. Evaluation of responses to these widely used advertisements is important to determine advertisements that are most effective and their mechanisms of action. Our study tested the hypothesis that advertisements rated highest in fear- and disgust-eliciting imagery would be rated as the most effective.


    Our laboratory study included 144 women and men aged 18 to 33; 84% were current nonsmokers. All participants viewed 6 antismoking television advertisements that depicted the health harms of smoking; they rated their responses of fear and disgust and the effectiveness of the advertisements. We used multilevel modeling to test the effects of the following in predicting effectiveness: fear, disgust, the fear–disgust interaction, the advertisement, and the participant’s sex and smoking status. Follow-up analyses examined differences in ratings of fear, disgust, and effectiveness.


    Advertisement, fear, disgust, and the fear–disgust interaction were each significant predictors of effectiveness. Smoking status and sex were not significant predictors. The 3 advertisements that elicited the highest ratings of fear and disgust were rated the most effective.


    Our findings support the hypothesis that antismoking advertisements of health harms that elicit the greatest responses of fear or disgust are the most effective. When advertisements elicit high ratings of both fear and disgust, advertisements with graphic imagery are effective, whereas advertisements without graphic imagery are not.

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