Obstructing the cascade: motivational system coactivation dampening defensive reactions to threat and disgust

Melanie A. Sarge, Zijian Gong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study uses the limited capacity model of motivated mediated message processing (LC4MP; Lang, 2006) as a framework to study coactivation of fundamental motivational systems elicited by common message features in antismoking public service announcements (PSAs): the appetitive system (elicited by smoking cues) and aversive system (elicited by perceived threat and disgust). Specific predictions were made for smoking cues’ ability to provide cognitive resources for message encoding when simultaneous message elements are so highly aversive they begin to deplete resources (i.e., during a defensive cascade). The results showed that greater resources were expended on encoding headlines as indicated by increased attention (i.e., gaze duration and frequency of fixation) and better free recall, but not noncue pictorial elements when smoking cues were present in PSAs high in perceived disgust. Although the inclusion of smoking cues was effective in highly aversive PSAs, results indicated that the inclusion of smoking cues reduced attention and free recall for moderately and low-aversive PSAs. Theoretical advances include the use of motivational coactivation to reduce defensive reactions and the differential allocation impact on text versus visual message elements. Applied implications highlight the importance of formative production research to ensure aversive activation is high enough to offset urges associated with smoking cues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-472
Number of pages28
JournalMedia Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2019


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