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Effects of and attention to graphic warning labels on cigarette packages

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Objective: The present study investigates the effects of graphic cigarette warnings compared to text-only cigarette warnings on smokers’ explicit (i.e. ratings of the packages, cognitions about smoking, perceived health risk, quit intentions) and implicit attitudes. In addition, participants’ visual attention towards the graphic warnings was recorded using eye-tracking methodology. Design and methods: Sixty-three smokers participated in the present study and either viewed graphic cigarette warnings with aversive and non-aversive images or text-only warnings. Data were analysed using analysis of variance and correlation analysis. Results: Especially, graphic cigarette warnings with aversive content drew attention and elicited high threat. However, whereas attention directed to the textual information of the graphic warnings predicted smokers’ risk perceptions, attention directed to the images of the graphic warnings did not. Moreover, smokers’ in the graphic warning condition reported more positive cognitions about smoking, thus revealing cognitive dissonance. Conclusion: Smokers employ defensive psychological mechanisms when confronted with threatening warnings. Although aversive images attract attention, they do not promote health knowledge. Implications for graphic health warnings and the importance of taking their content (i.e. aversive vs. non-aversive images) into account are discussed.
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Keywords: cognitive dissonance; eye-tracking; smoking; visual attention; warning labels

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany. 2: Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany. 3: Department of Psychology, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Luxembourg.

Publication date: October 1, 2013

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