Experimental evaluation of antitobacco PSAs: effects of message content and format on physiological and behavioral outcomes

Nicotine Tob Res. 2009 Mar;11(3):293-302. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntn026. Epub 2009 Feb 26.


Introduction: Antitobacco media campaigns using public service announcements (PSAs) have shown promise in reducing smoking initiation and increasing intentions to quit. Research on what makes an effective PSA has had mixed outcomes. The present study tested the effects of specific message features in antitobacco PSAs, using theory-based physiological and self-report outcomes.

Methods: PSAs were categorized as high or low in message sensation value (MSV) and strength of argument and presented to 200 current smokers in a 2 x 2 factorial design. Physiological responses-specifically, heart rate, skin conductance, zygomaticus major, and corrugator supercilii-were assessed while participants viewed the PSAs. Beliefs, attitudes, efficacy, norms, and intentions to quit were assessed immediately following viewing.

Results: Corrugator activity was significantly greater in the high MSV condition. Among those low in sensation seeking, low MSV PSAs elicited higher self-efficacy, whereas the reverse was true for high sensation seekers. High MSV PSAs elicited higher negative beliefs in low sensation seekers. Adding physiological measures to a model predicting intention to quit did not improve the explained variance.

Discussion: The present study represents the first comprehensive theory-based experimental investigation of the effects of different features of antitobacco PSAs and provides a framework for future research in identifying effective features of such PSAs. Results illustrate the importance of considering individual differences, characterizing both PSA content and format, and outcome and response measures when evaluating antitobacco PSAs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Motivation
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods*
  • Persuasive Communication*
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Smoking Cessation / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires