Artificial concerns. Effects of a commercial advertisement on modern health worries and sympathetic activation

Köteles, Ferenc and Tarján, Eszter and Berkes, Tímea (2016) Artificial concerns. Effects of a commercial advertisement on modern health worries and sympathetic activation. Mentálhigiéné és Pszichoszomatika, 17 (1). pp. 61-79. ISSN 1419-8126


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Theoretical background Many companies offer products that are claimed to protect against harmful environmental factors. Advertisements of such products are designed to maximize risk perception and worrying, which may have a negative impact on psychological functioning and health. Public worry about the harmful effects of various environmental factors may also be boosted. Aim To measure the impact of an advertising film on worrying and sympathetic activation. Methods 100 young adults completed questionnaires measuring constructs that were connected to modern health worries in past studies (somatosensory amplification, health anxiety, subjective somatic symptoms, beliefs about the validity of complementary and alternative medicine, holistic health beliefs, and spirituality). Participants were asked to watch an advertising film exaggerating the risks posed by electromagnetic radiation or a control film. Sympathetic activation (as assessed by heart rate) was measured before and after the intervention. Worrying (as assessed by the Radiation sub-scale of the Modern Health Worries Scale) was measured before and after the intervention, and three weeks later. Results Compared to the control film, the advertisement caused an acute increase in heart rate (t(98) = 4.122, p < .001). Concerning worrying, a mixed analysis of variance indicated a significant group × time interaction (F(2,98) = 3.455; p = .034). In the post hoc analysis, the control group showed no significant deviations from baseline. In the intervention group, however, significant (p < .05) differences were found from baseline at both follow-ups. Acute change in worrying was not connected to any assessed psychological construct (i.e., no effect modification was found). Conclusions Commercial advertisements of certain health protecting products can play a role in the generation and maintenance of modern health worries. From a broader point of view, such advertisements may contribute to both the social amplification of risk and possible development of a moral panic.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion / filozófia, pszichológia, vallás > BF Psychology / lélektan
Depositing User: László Sallai-Tóth
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2016 09:40
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2018 23:15

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