When a fear appeal isn't just a fear appeal: The effects of graphic anti-tobacco messages

Glenn Leshner, Fred Vultee, Paul D. Bolls, Jensen Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The current study experimentally tested two types of message attributes commonly used in anti-tobacco television ads-content that focuses on a health threat about tobacco use (fear), and content that contains disgust-related images (disgust)-for how they impact viewers' cognitive processing of the message. The results suggest that the impact of disgust content in anti-tobacco television ads on cognitive resources available for encoding the messages and on recognition memory varies according to whether or not the message is a fear appeal. The presence of disgust-related images led to slower secondary task reaction times (STRTs) and better audio recognition for low fear messages. The presence of disgust related images did not significantly affect STRTs and led to worse audio recognition for high fear messages. These results are interpreted in light of Lang's Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Message Processing, and recommendations about message construction are offered to health campaign designers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-507
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


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