On the heels of previous Ephblog discussions about binge drinking and efforts to reduce its frequency on college campuses, a new study from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management found that some public service announcements targeted at students are not having the desired effect.  Quite the opposite.

It has long been assumed, of course, that guilt and shame were ideal ways of warning of the dangers associated with binge drinking and other harmful behaviors, because they are helpful in spotlighting the associated personal consequences. But this study found the opposite to be true: Viewers already feeling some level of guilt or shame instinctively resist messages that rely on those emotions, and in some cases are more likely to participate in the behavior they’re being warned about.

The reason, said Kellogg marketing professor Nidhi Agrawal, is that people who are already feeling guilt or shame resort to something called “defensive processing” when confronted with more of either, and tend to disassociate themselves with whatever they are being shown in order to lessen those emotions.

(Example via Gawker.)

The full study will be published in the Journal of Marketing Research later this year.  Until then, one of the study’s authors has some advice for this attempting to deter students from binge drinking.

Ms. Agrawal suggested two fixes for PSA makers. The first involves media: Ads placed in more-positive surroundings — such as in a sitcom or a positive magazine article — have a better chance at resonating than those placed in tense or negative contexts. Second, she said, anti-alcohol groups would be better served focusing their messages around how to avoid situations that lead to binge drinking than on the consequences of the behavior, because attempting to shame people out of binge drinking doesn’t work.

I don’t know if the health center or anyone else on campus has been employing PSAs of this type around campus.  If anyone in Williamstown has seen anything on this score, feel free to chime in.

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