Effective Public Service Announcements: Linking Social Norms to Visual Memory Cues

Bator, R. J. (1997). Effective public service announcements: Linking social norms to visual memory cues. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 58, 6-B,

The purpose of this research was to create and test the effectiveness of antilittering public service announcements (PSAs) that linked different types of visual cues to social disapproval for littering. Researchers have found that social disapproval is a strong motivator of individuals' decisions to not litter. There is also evidence that recall of a message is enhanced if there is a visual cue in the natural environment that matches a cue from the message. Thus it was hypothesized that an effective PSA should illustrate social disapproval of littering, and this disapproval should be stated during a close-up of a visual cue that is highly represented in the relevant behavioral settings. Participants either watched a 20 minute video that included one of six antilittering PSAs or a control video in which no PSA was presented. Participants had an opportunity to litter in a seemingly unrelated situation between three and five hours after the video presentation. The least amount of littering occurred among the participants who saw a PSA that linked social disapproval to littering through a simultaneous presentation of a close-up of a piece of litter and an explicit statement of social disapproval. It appears that this type of PSA activated social disapproval at the time that the desired behavior became relevant. An application of the findings from this experiment could be made to public service announcements seeking to create change in other important types of behaviors.

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