Defensive responses to an emotive anti-alcohol message

Psychol Health. 2009 Jun;24(5):517-28. doi: 10.1080/08870440801911130.


We investigated the idea that emotive imagery used in health promotion advertising can facilitate a defensive response that adversely affects risk perceptions. One hundred student drinkers were exposed to either a printed message accompanied by images designed to maximise emotional distress or the same message presented using less emotive images. A three-way interaction was found, whereby the presentation of distressing images caused lower personal risk estimates in participants higher in denial and vulnerability to alcohol-related problems. This effect may have been mediated by lower reading times, suggesting that participants avoided the messages. Moderation by denial suggests that the effect is attributable to defensiveness, whilst moderation by vulnerability suggests that it is threat specific. These findings suggest that emotive images might trigger defensive avoidance responses that reduce risk estimates in some audience sub-populations.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Emotions*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Male
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Risk-Taking
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult