Exemplar Study: Do Graphic Warnings Make Cigarettes Less Cool? (Mixed Design)

This study examined the effectiveness of graphic warnings (i.e., pictures) for reducing the appeal of tobacco products. In the study, researchers exposed smokers and nonsmokers to combinations of large versus small warning labels and the inclusion versus omission of graphic pictures on three types of tobacco products. For the within-subjects component, each participant saw advertisements for three products (Skoal™ tobacco, Commit™ lozenges, and Omni™ reduced exposure cigarettes). For the between-subjects component, participants saw either a Surgeon General’s tobacco warning label, or a graphic picture. Within those groups, the size of the advertisement also varied. The dependent variables included ratings of interest in trying the product, desire to purchase the product, perceived safety of the product, trustworthiness of the product, and overall appeal of the product. The graphic picture was an effective deterrent.

Stark, E., Kim, A., Miller, C., & Borgida, E. (2008). Effects of including a graphic warning label in advertisements for reduced-exposure products: Implications for persuasion and policy. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 281-293. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2008.00406.x

Discussion Starters:
• What are the design elements (IV, DV) and operational definitions?
• What are the potential confounds?
• What are the strengths and weaknesses of the study design?
• In terms of designating smokers from nonsmokers, is it problematic to separate solely on whether they have smoked in the last 30 days? What improvements could the researchers make that might be helpful for testing the hypotheses?
• What are the trade-offs in terms of control versus realism in presenting the advertisements on the computer? What could be done differently?
• Were the selected products ideal for an undergraduate sample? How might the results of this study differ if other tobacco products were used?
• What is a different way to operationally define the dependent variable? What other ways could one measure the impact of the advertisements on smokers (especially ways that may be less prone to social desirability)?

In-class Activities:
• Ask the class for other products that might benefit from graphic pictures. As a class or in small groups, generate a study to test their idea(s).
o Suggestions in case students get stuck: energy drinks, alcohol, coffee, prescription drugs, tanning beds.
• This study used graphic pictures of diseased body parts. Ask the class for other types of pictures that might be effective. As a class or in small groups, generate a study to test their idea(s).
o Suggestions in case students get stuck: wrinkles, yellowing skin, discolored teeth, children who were negatively influenced.
• Bring in clips of antismoking commercials (http://anti-smoking-ads.blogspot.com/ is a good source). Ask students which messages they think are most and least effective. As a class or in small groups, generate a study that will test the effectiveness of the messages.

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