Reactance and Public Health Messages: The Unintended Dangers of Anti-tobacco PSAs

Norman C. H. Wong, Kylie J. Harrison, Lindsey A. Harvell


This study examined smokers’ reactions to antismoking messages that emphasized either the harms of secondhand smoke or vulnerability to smoking addiction and framed the need for smoking cessation using either gain or loss message frames. One hundred fifty-four college smokers participated in a study that used a 2 x 2 factorial design crossing message type (secondhand smoke appeals, smoking addiction appeals) and message frame (gain, loss) with the addition of a control group. The primary outcomes assessed were participants’ intentions to quit smoking and psychological reactance. Secondhand smoke appeals paired with a loss-framed smoking cessation message yielded greater reactance and lower intentions to quit compared to smoking addiction PSAs paired with a gain-framed smoking cessation message. Overall, loss framed smoking cessation messages elicited greater message reactance compared to gain framed smoking cessation messages.

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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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