Attitude and norm accessibility affect processing of anti-smoking messages

Health Psychol. 2008 May;27(3S):S224-32. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.3(suppl.).s224.


Objective: Anti-smoking PSAs are not always effective in reducing cigarette smoking, and there is a lack of research into mechanisms through which PSAs affect the attitudes and behaviors of viewers. The present research was designed to better understand how smokers and non-smokers process anti-smoking ads.

Design: In a repeated measures design, the accessibility of smokers' (N = 70) and non-smokers' (N = 96) attitudes toward and norms concerning smoking were assessed and then their reactions to four anti-smoking PSAs were measured.

Results: The accessibility of smokers' attitudes toward smoking-how quickly they bring their attitudes to mind-predicted their central processing of ad content, and smokers who counterargued in response to the ads were not persuaded by them. The accessibility of smokers' norms for smoking-how quickly they bring to mind social support for smoking-predicted their peripheral processing of the ads, and imbued resistance to persuasion. In contrast, non-smokers' attitude and norm accessibility were unrelated to ad processing.

Conclusion: These results suggest that anti-smoking ads may have paradoxical effects on smokers and may actually undermine anti-smoking efforts. Furthermore, smokers who can readily access a pro-smoking norm are unlikely to process anti-smoking messages, which may further hinder anti-smoking efforts.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Mass Media
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Reaction Time
  • Regression Analysis
  • Smoking Prevention*
  • Social Identification
  • Social Marketing*
  • Social Values*
  • Southeastern United States