Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research

Evaluating Anti-Smoking PSAs



Despite the widespread use of public service announcements (PSAs) to promote smoking cessation, there have been few investigations of the factors that influence PSA effectiveness or the influence that viewing PSAs might have on treatment-seeking behavior or intentions to quit smoking. Two features of the PSA that may be important are argument quality and message sensation value (MSV), which refers to aspects of production such as pacing, editing and content. Recent studies have demonstrated that attention to television anti-drug PSAs can be reliably assessed via heart rate, as attentional increases are associated with heart rate deceleration. Also, editing and production elements of PSAs have been shown to affect cognitive processing and arousal measured via skin conductance. The goal of the Evaluating Anti-Smoking PSAs project is to explore the effects of television-based anti-tobacco PSAs on cognitive and physiological outcome measures. Specifically, we are examining the main and interacting effects of argument quality (strong vs. weak) and message sensation value (low vs. high) on attitudes, beliefs, intentions, arousal (skin conductance), attention (heart rate) and affective response (facial muscle).

Preliminary Studies

Argument Quality of Anti-Smoking PSAs

Caryn Lerman, Andrew Strasser, Joseph Cappella

The goal of this study is to explore how daily smokers perceive statements and arguments extracted from television-based public service announcements (PSAs) designed to promote smoking cessation. These anti-smoking public service announcements (PSAs) designed for television can present smoking cessation information to the viewer in many ways. One important aspect of ad presentation is the argument quality of the PSA, that is, what is the message being conveyed by the PSA; what is implied by the message; and, how persuasive is the message. The impact of argument quality is not easily discerned when viewing a PSA. The current study was designed to better understand the effect of argument strength on smokers' perceptions and thoughts of quitting. To do this, researchers presented the argument from smoking cessation PSAs in text format. Measures from this preliminary study were incorporated into the larger experimental study evaluating the effects of PSA MSV and argument quality on cognitive, physiological and behavioral responses. The findings of this study may allow researchers to better understand how advertisements about smoking cessation may influence beliefs about smoking and intentions to quit.


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Message Sensation Value of Anti-Smoking PSAs

Caryn Lerman, Andrew Strasser, Joseph Cappella

This project focused on descriptive data from the formative research phase of an experimental study of effects of public service announcement (PSA) message sensation value (MSV) and argument strength on cognitive, physiological and behavioral responses. MSV refers to the degree to which formal and content audio-visual features of a message elicit sensory, affective and arousal responses, and may be related to sensation-seeking (Palmgreen, 1991). Filming, editing and special effect techniques may contribute to MSV. Six hundred PSAs were coded by three trained research assistants for topic (e.g., quitting smoking, second-hand smoke) and audience (adolescents, adults). Ninety-nine PSAs that focused on smoking cessation and targeted adults were selected. PSAs were coded for MSV which incorporates visual, auditory, and content features. Reliability of ratings were significant. Those PSAs with high and low MSV were then selected for inclusion in the larger experimental study evaluating the effects of PSA MSV and argument quality on cognitive, physiological and behavioral responses.


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Primary Study

The Effect of Smoking Cessation Public Service Announcements on Cognitive and Physiological Responses

Caryn Lerman, Joseph Cappella, John Cacioppo, William Shadel, Andrew Strasser

This is the primary study under the Evaluating Anti-Smoking Public Service Announcements (PSAs) project. Researchers will test the effects of smoking cessation-themed PSAs that have previously been coded for argument strength (strong vs. weak) and message sensation value (MSV), (high vs. low). Participants will view a series of PSAs that share similar argument strength and MSV. Each participant will view four to six thirty-second PSAs in a particular category (e.g. high MSV, weak argument) and then complete a series of questionnaires assessing perceived risk, intentions, beliefs, attitudes, and self-efficacy. This study will also explore whether a trait measure of approach-avoidance (positivity offset, negativity bias) predicts cognitive and physiological responses to the PSAs. In addition, researchers will investigate whether specific genetic factors in the dopamine reward pathway (e.g. DRD2, DAT, COMT) and the serotonin mood regulation pathway (5HTTLPR, 5HT receptors) are associated with this trait measure or response to the PSAs. This study will be the first to investigate empirically the effect that PSA features have on physiological, cognitive and behavioral measures. The findings may be used to better design anti-smoking messages to smokers, thereby providing a net benefit to the general public health.


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Related Studies

Evaluation of Quest Cigarette Advertisements

Caryn Lerman, William Shadel, Andrew Strasser

The goal of this study is to explore how smokers perceive Quest, low nicotine cigarettes, advertisements. The ultimate objective is to determine whether beliefs about Quest cigarettes correlate with quitting intentions. This study evaluated health beliefs and perceptions about Quest cigarettes following exposure to a single print advertisement among 200 participants in states where Quest cigarettes are not marketed or available. Participants made several false inferences about Quest cigarettes after exposure to the advertisement (i.e., lower in tar, healthier, less likely to cause cancer). The prevalence of particular false inferences was significantly greater among smokers who had less than a high school education. Two individual difference variables, need for cognition (i.e., enjoy thinking about complex issues) and perceived vulnerability (i.e., personal risk for smoking-related disease), moderated smokers' health beliefs about Quest cigarettes. A manuscript with results from this study was recently published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Published:Shadel, W.G., Lerman, C., Cappella, J., Strasser, A., Pinto, A., & Hornik, R. (2006). Evaluating Smokers' Reactions to Advertising for New Lower Nicotine Quest Cigarettes. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 20(1), 80-84.


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Exploring Individual Eye Movement Patterns When Viewing Smoking Cessation Public Service Announcements

Deborah Linebarger, PhD

This study will test the effects of message sensation value (MSV) in anti-tobacco public service announcements (PSAs) on an individual’s eye movement patterns. Participants will view PSAs that vary in their message sensation value, as well as their visual/verbal redundancy. Eye tracking equipment will be used during viewing to determine where the individual fixates on the screen, duration of fixation and when these fixations occur during the PSA. Analysis of this data will allow researchers to examine the stimuli that are related to these fixations and durations as well as help researchers determine the impact of MSV and visual/verbal redundancy on eye movement patterns. In addition to reviewing the individual characteristics of the PSAs on eye movement patterns, this study will investigate how individual characteristics of the viewer may influence these patterns. Researchers are particularly interested in understanding how an individual’s appetite-aversive trait (positivity offset/negativity bias or PONB) may influence these eye movement patterns. This study will investigate the potential relationship between an individual’s PONB and eye movement while viewing a smoking cessation PSA. Further, it will allow researchers to determine if visual/verbal redundancy and/or message sensation value differentially influence eye movement as a function of PONB.


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Functional MRI of Brain Response to Anti-Smoking Advertisements

Daniel Langleben, MD

This is a pilot study for the larger center project titled Evaluating Anti-Tobacco public service announcements (PSAs). The purpose of this study is to evaluate the feasibility of using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study brain response to anti-smoking PSAs. In preliminary studies, researchers used perfusion fMRI to detect increased activity in the components of the brain limbic system in opiate-dependent patients in response to a ten-minute heroin-related video. The results indicated that (1) Brain response to media can be measured with fMRI; (2) Brain response to media varies across target audiences and (3) Specific structures mediating strong interest could be activated in the target population but not the controls. Collaborators at Penn have also used fMRI to detect differential response to the emotional image content. This pilot study takes an important first step towards exploring the feasibility of using magnetic resonance signal as a marker of cognitive (e.g. attention) and emotional (e.g. arousal) responses to different PSAs. Results from this would allow interpretation of the brain response to a PSA in terms of known brain localization of cognitive functions.


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Quest Cigarette Ad Manipulation

A. Strasser, PhD

Background: The Institute of Medicine report on potential reduced exposure products (PREPs) recommends that advertising and labeling be regulated to prevent explicitly or implicitly false or misleading claims. Belief that a product is less harmful may increase use or prevent smoking cessation.

Objective: To determine the effect of altering advertisement features on smokers beliefs of the harm exposure from a PREP.

Methods: A Quest advertisement was digitally altered using computer software and presented to participants using web-based television recruitment contracted through a survey company. 500 current smokers completed demographic and smoking history questions, were randomized to view one of three advertisement conditions, then completed eight items assessing their beliefs of the harmfulness of the product. Advertisement conditions included the original, unaltered advertisement; a red condition where the cigarette packages were digitally altered to the color red, implying increased harm potential; and a no text condition where all text was removed to reduce explicit product information. Polytomous logistic regression, using incorrect, unsure and correct as outcomes, and advertisement type and covariates as predictors, was used for analyses.

Results: Participants randomized to the no text advertisement were less likely to be incorrect in their beliefs that Quest cigarettes are lower in tar, less addictive, less likely to cause cancer, have fewer chemicals, healthier and make smoking safer.

Conclusions: Smokers can form false beliefs about the harmfulness of PREP products based on how the PREPs are marketed. Careful examination must be undertaken to provide empirical evidence to better formulate regulatory principles of PREP advertising.


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The Role of Transportation into Narrative Worlds in Cancer Communication

Melanie C. Green, PhD

The current study focuses on "transportation into narrative worlds" as a mechanism for story-based belief change. Transportation is defined as an integrative melding of attention, imagery, and feelings, focused on story events. One purpose of the pilot project is to examine whether brief narratives (anti-smoking public service announcements/advertisements) can create transportation. Currently, a sample of smokers is rating their transportation into the ads, as well as their emotional response to the ads. We will then conduct an experimental study (in which participants will be randomly assigned to view a high or low transporting PSA) examining whether viewer transportation into an anti-smoking advertisement predicts the effectiveness of that advertisement.


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