Health communication scholars have provided ample evidence demonstrating the ways in which freedom-threatening language used in persuasive health messages evokes freedom-threat perceptions, state psychological reactance, and intentions to engage in behaviors opposite of those recommended by the health message. This study examined a novel mitigation strategy for diminishing these outcomes. We examined whether prior exposure to entertainment portrayals of moral virtue (versus a neutral video) can dampen audiences’ psychological reactance, intentions to consume alcohol, and defensive message processing via their psychophysiological responses to a subsequent, freedom-threatening excessive alcohol consumption public service announcement (PSA). The results revealed that participants who viewed entertainment portrayals of moral virtue (N = 50 college-aged participants) self-reported higher levels of elevation, moved, and inspiration relative to participants in the control condition (N = 50 college-aged participants). Participants who were exposed to entertainment portrayals of moral virtue prior to the excessive alcohol consumption PSA also self-reported less psychological reactance and fewer behavioral intentions to consume alcohol following the excessive alcohol consumption PSA than participants in the control condition. Consistent with these self-report data, participants in the entertainment portrayals of moral virtue condition exhibited less defensive message processing of the excessive alcohol consumption PSA via their psychophysiological responses relative to the control group. The results indicate that initial exposure to entertainment portrayals of moral virtue can dampen audiences’ cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to a subsequent, freedom-threatening health message, thereby increasing the chances of improved health outcomes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health(social science)