The Southern Center For Communication, Health & Poverty
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Youth and Smoking
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Principal Investigator: Dr. Jennifer Monahan
Research Assistants: (Lead)
Elisabeth Bigsby, Youyou Cheng

Background and Overview of the Study

The purpose of this 3-year project was to examine how low-income teens (ages 14-15) process anti-smoking messages.  In Y1 & Y2, we assessed what types of messages teens responded to best.  In addition, a dynamic model of attitude change and teens’ decision making preferences were used to predict message processing and behavior.  In Y3 (in process), teens viewed messages found effective in Y2. Three months later, we examine the effect of message exposure on smoking behavior, attitudes and message recall.   

Research Design:

    Anti-smoking messages are often “do not do” messages which young teens are often reactant towards. Reactance was assessed by examining perceptions that messages were biased (e.g., overblown, untruthful) and by examining respondent’s cognitive responses to the messages.  Field experiments were conducted with low-income teens using a 2 (African American vs. White) by 2 (Gender) x 2 (Location: rural vs. urban) design with roughly equivalent number of participants per cell.

    Over last 3 years, this project team has conducted more than 9 studies examining teens and anti-smoking messages:

    • Study 1: Teens’ Perceptions of Smoking. Focus groups were conducted to understand how teens in different subgroups (e.g. African American males, White females) perceive messages and make decisions about smoking. For more details, click here.

    • Study 2: Ethnic Differences in Teens’ Knowledge about Smoking. White teens smoke at higher rates than African American teens. Yet African American adults have higher smoking rates than White adults. This study explored different mental models that African American and White teens have about smoking to understand these discrepancies. For more details, click here.

    • Study 3: What is not the “Truth”? Teens’ Perceptions and Recall of Anti-Smoking Messages. The Truth campaign has been very effective in branding and marketing. Our teens recall all anti-smoking messages as Truth messages even when they are not. Click here to find out why.

    • Study 4: The Content of Cigarette Counter-Advertising. Read about our analysis of the content of 500 PSAs. Click here.

    • Study 5: Using Social Norms to Predict Risky Adolescent Health Behavior. We tested in-group members’ influence on teens’ smoking and other risky health behaviors (alcohol, marijuana and sex). Click here for more details.

    • Study 6: Impact of Decision Style on Teens’ Processing of Anti-Smoking PSAs. A field experiment was conducted with 325 teens (average age 14.97) to see how teens preferred decision making style (rational or experiential) and their attitudes about smoking affect how they perceive anti-smoking PSAs. Click here for more details.

    • Study 7: Selecting Messages to Use with Young Adolescents. The goal of this study was to identify types of messages to use in Study 8 that low-income young adolescents process without bias or resistance. Using the same methods and sample reported in Study 6, young teens were exposed to three types anti-smoking messages: personal testimony, secondhand smoke, and informative. To find out our results, click here.

    • Study 8: Smoking Behavior & Perceptions of Message. We examined if known predictors of adolescent smoking behavior make teens more open or more resistant to anti-smoking messages.  Find out more, click here.

    • Study 9: Mini-Prevention Effort & Message Recall. In Study 8, young adolescents were exposed to either messages that evoke little bias or reactance or to messages that trigger reactance. At the 12-week follow-up we examine attitudes about smoking and smoking behavior as well as whether the low bias messages are more easily recalled. Click here for more details.





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