Scare' em or disgust 'em: The effects of graphic health promotion messages

Glenn Leshner, Paul Bolls, Erika Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


This study experimentally tested the effects of 2 types of content commonly found in anti-tobacco television messages-content focused on communicating a health threat about tobacco use (fear) and content containing disgust-related images-on how viewers processed these messages. In a 2 × 2 within-subjects experiment, participants watched anti-tobacco television ads that varied in the amount of fear and disgust content. The results of this study suggest that both fear and disgust content in anti-tobacco television ads have significant effects on resources allocated to encoding the messages and on recognition memory. Heart-rate data indicated that putting fear- or disgust-related content into anti-tobacco ads led to more resources allocated to encoding compared to messages without either feature. However, participants appeared to allocate fewer resources to encoding during exposure to messages featuring both fear and disgust content. Recognition was most accurate for messages that had either fear or disgust content but was significantly impaired when these 2 message attributes occurred together. The results are discussed in the context of motivated processing and recommendations about message construction are offered to campaign designers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-458
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2009


Dive into the research topics of 'Scare' em or disgust 'em: The effects of graphic health promotion messages'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this