Beliefs and attitudes are necessary for adapting to new situations and attitude change is necessary for arriving at new situations. Attitudes are evaluations of our beliefs are and formed in an array of ways including; classical conditioning, operant conditioning, social/observational learning and mere exposure effect. A variety of theories stipulate how attitudes can be changed once formed; the general consensus being persuasion is the key to change. The Elaboration likelihood model of persuasion presents two routes in which messages can be sent and received, and the Yale attitude change approach specifies factors which influence the effectiveness of the message being sent and the likelihood of persuasion. This essay also contains a case study of the Australian National Tobacco Campaign, which outlines persuasion methods, strategies, and techniques employed by the campaign. The effectiveness of the Australian National Tobacco Campaign is also evaluated.
Beliefs and Attitudes -
Smoking is a behaviour shaped by beliefs (what ones knows about smoking) and attitudes (whether or not one likes or dislikes smoking behaviour). A person’s beliefs about smoking can be shaped by what they do and don’t know about smoking, for example; a person may smoke because they have been exposed to information regarding the consequences and are willing to take health risks, or they may smoke because they haven’t been exposed to such information and don’t know what consequences they may suffer as a result of smoking behaviour. An attitude is an evaluation of a belief, in other words we choose whether we like or dislike something based on what we known about it. ‘Attitudes are necessary and adaptive for humans as they help us to adjust to new situations, seeking out those things in our environment that reward us and avoiding those things that punish us.’ (Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J., 2008, pp. 227) We may also have a duel attitude; that is both implicit and explicit attitudes about smoking behaviour. An implicit attitude is an internal automatic response whereas an explicit is an external controlled response. An example of a dual attitude is disliking smoking because of health risks (i.e your beliefs about smoking) but smoking anyway. Some people poses very strong attitudes, attitude polarization occurs when strong attitudes become more extreme upon reflection.
Consistency theory suggests that when an individual’s beliefs and attitudes are aligned and support one another, that individual experiences a comfortable state of affairs. (Changing Minds, 2007, online) However, when beliefs and attitudes are inconsistent with one another we experience cognitive dissonance (individual awareness of inconsistencies in thoughts, feelings, and opinions). According to Festinger (1957) people avoid information that is likely to increase dissonance.
Formation of attitudes –
Attitudes about smoking, and anything else can be formed by classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social/observational learning, and by mere exposure effect.
Classical conditioning is the repeated pairing of potential attitude objects (conditioned stimuli) with positively and negatively charged stimuli (unconditioned stimulus). (Wikipedia, 2007, online) For example if a cigarette’s (conditioned stimulus) is repeatedly paired with what a smoker believes are ‘positive effects’ (i.e. stress relief, decreased appetite, calmness ect.), over time a conditioned attitude of smoking is formed, that is, ‘smoking makes me feel good’. Lazev, Herzog and Brandon (1999) conducted a study to examine classical conditioning of environmental cues to cigarette smoking. Environmental cues caused physiological reactivity (cardiac responses) indicating environmental cues can be classically conditioned to smoking
Operant conditioning is the use of consequences or rewards for certain behaviour. (Wikipedia, 2007, online) For example each time a person has a cigarette they are rewarded by their perceived positive effects (i.e. stress relief, decreased appetite, calmness ect.) which rewards the behaviour, thus the person becomes a regular smoker. Operant conditioning can also be used to change attitudes by punishing behaviour.
Social learning or observational learning is ‘is learning that occurs as a function of observing, retaining and replicating behavior observed in others.’ (Wikipedia, 2006, online) Children often learn attitudes by observing which behaviours (performed by other people) are rewarded and punished. In terms of smoking a person may form the attitude that smoking is desirable if they observe a smoker relieved from stress after having a cigarette. Alternatively a person may form an undesirable attitude about smoking if they have observed the course of disease of a person with lung cancer. Khron et al. (1985) hypothesised causality for social learning and adolescent cigarette smoking; however, found that social learning theory best accounted for maintenance and cessation rather than initiation of smoking.
And finally, mere exposure effect is the explanation that people express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them. (Wikipedia, 2007, online)
Attitudes can be changed as easily as they can be formed. There are a variety of sociopsychological theories which stipulate how this occurs. Particularly prominent theories of attitude change have been conflict theory, reinforcement theory, and incentive theory.
Jans and Mann’s (1968) conflict theory suggests that new information may challenge existing attitudes. (Changing Minds, 2007, online) For example, a new television advertisement which presents scientific findings as to the consequences of smoking may change a person’s beliefs, therefore challenging their attitude about smoking. As a result, the individual will seek out alternative actions (i.e. quitting) through a five step process; (1) appraisal of the challenge, (2) appraisal of alternatives, (3) selection of the best alternative, (4) commitment to a new policy, and (5) evaluation of the new system in place. (Changing Minds, 2007, online) Farrelly et al. (2002) conducted a study to evaluate whether or not new scientific information, presented in an American anti-smoking campaign influenced youth’s smoking beliefs and attitudes. It was found that the presentation of new information did in fact positively influence beliefs and attitudes as the conflict theory suggests.
Consistent with conflict theory is Hovland, Janis, and Kelley’s reinforcement theory. This theory stipulates attitude change is the result of learning and reinforcement of information learned. Furthermore, receiving, hearing, or accepting new options is likely to bring about attitude change. (Changing Minds, 2007, online) A 2005 study of 25,000 American school children, who had attended anti-smoking programs which involved lectures and role-modeling sessions, concluded that anti-smoking programs don’t work unless the messages are reinforced in the home and community. (Billingsley, J., 2005) These findings are consistent with the reinforcement hypothesis.
Finally, incentive theory, also by Hovland, simply puts forth that new opinions and information are accepted if there is the potential for reward. (Changing Minds, 2007, online) However, it is unlikely that this theory is accurate regarding rewards for smoking cessation, as the rewards for cessation aren’t immediate or tangible (i.e less or no health conditions).
Conflict and reinforcement theory attribute successful attitude change based on the acquisition of new information. However, individuals must be persuaded to accept new information before their attitudes can be changed, therefore persuasion is the key to attitude change.
Petty and Cacioppo’s elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (ELM hereafter) describes how attitudes and formed and change through persuasion, based upon an elaboration continuum, which ranges from low elaboration (low thought) to high elaboration (high thought). According to the ELM there are two routes to persuasion, the central route and the peripheral route. A central route of persuasion used by advertisers ‘requires a great deal of thought, and therefore is likely to predominate under conditions that promote high elaboration.’ (Wikipedia, 2007, online) Central route processes (i.e. a speech or advertisement) are designed to encourage the audience to elaborate on the information provided and determine beliefs and an attitude about the presented argument. Attitudes formed or changed by high elaboration are ‘stronger, more predictive of behaviour and information processing, more stable over time, and more resistant to further persuasion than those attitudes formed or changed by low elaboration. (Wikipedia, 2007, online) On the other hand, a peripheral route involves low elaboration of the message and can be as simple as learning a slogan or catch phrase. Despite which route is intended for an advertisement’s audience, there are two factors which determine which route an individual will take in a persuasive situation; motivation (strong desire to process the message) and ability (actually being capable of critical evaluation). (Wikipedia, 2007, online) Ultimately, the message sent has been successfully received if the new attitudes, based on new information, reflect that of the message itself. Metzler et al. (1999) applied the ELM to examine attitude change and persuasion on the topic of HIV prevention. ‘Participants were randomly assigned to one of four audio tape message conditions, varying the message source between high (an HIV positive teen) or low (a parent concerned about AIDS) as well as the strength of the overall argument (strong or weak), while controlling for processing style’. Results revealed central route processes (high elaboration), in this case a HIV positive teenager and a strong argument, were the greatest influence upon attitudes as the ELM stipulates. (Metzler et al., 1999)
Hovland’s Yale attitude change approach, which emphasises persuasion, has been highly influential upon the way in which advertisements are designed. According to Hovland, ‘we should understand attitude change as a response to communication’. (Wikipedia, 2006, online) This theory presents four factors which Hovland believes affect the persuasiveness of a message;
(1) Target characteristics; intelligent individuals are harder to persuade, whereas individuals with moderate self-esteem (compared to high or low self-esteem) are more easily persuaded, however one’s mood is a large variable of this factor.
(2) Source characteristics; the expertise, trustworthiness, attractiveness, and perceived credibility of the source (i.e. advertiser) also play a large role in persuasion.
(3) Message characteristics; presenting both sides of a story within a message can sometimes influence persuasion.
(4) Cognitive routes; consistent with the ELM, central routes encourage evaluation of data/argument, whereas peripheral routes encourage individuals to evaluate the attractiveness of the source. (Wikipedia, 2006, online)
Persuasion Strategies –
The most common persuasion strategy used by advertisers is hard sell or soft sell strategies.
Soft sell strategies involve a gentler more emotionally appealing approach. There are three ‘soft steps’ that can be taken when employing a soft sell strategy; (1) listen to and observe what people are saying or have said, (2) question their objections, and (3) address their concerns.
Hard sell strategies are the more aggressive approach to persuasion. There are two ‘hard steps’ which can be taken when employing a hard sell strategy; (1) let enthusiasm and passion show, and (2) be able to support your belief. (AOL Small Business, 2006, online)
Persuasion techniques –
Advertiser’s attempt to persuade target audiences through appeal by reason or appeal by emotion. (Wikipedia, 2007, online)
Appeal by reason techniques include;
§ Logical argument – following a ‘logical’ path or reason (the path a target is likely to take)
§ Scientific method – using statistics, scientific facts, scientific/medical experts to enhance perceived expertise and credibility.
§ Rhetoric – the use of ‘loud’ sophisticated, confusing language to enhance perceived
§ Proof – physically providing, or having an expert deliver proof of the message. (Wikipedia, 2007, online)
Appeal by emotion techniques include;
§ Presentation/Imagination – effective presentation which encourages the audience to imagine attitude change.
§ Seduction – deliberately enticing/motivating individuals astray from their current attitudes.
§ Propaganda - information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause. (Wikipedia, 2007, online)
Case Study: The Australian National Tobacco Campaign.
Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. (ABS, 2006, online) A statistical snapshot of 2004-05 reveals 23 percent of adults were current smokers (approximately 3.5 million persons), 21 percent were daily smokers, and 2 percent smoked less frequently. (ABS, 2006, online)
The National Tobacco Campaign (NTC hereafter) is a collaborative quit-smoking health initiative between federal, state, and territory governments, and non-government organisations. (Quit now, 2006, online) Between 1996 and 2004 the federal government has committed $21.3 million to the NTC. (Quit now, 2006, online) The campaign is targeted at 18-40 year old smokers, and aims to persuade the target audience to change their beliefs and attitudes about smoking and quit today rather than planning to do so in the future.
The main message being sent by the NTC is ‘every cigarette is doing you damage’. This message is send via hard-hitting television advertisements, radio advertisements, newspaper advertisements, graphic images on cigarette packaging, bus advertising, poster’s, and Doctor’s television, and on the official ‘quit now’ website. Pierce, Macaskill, and Hill (1990) evaluated a year long Australian anti-smoking campaign in terms of the success of the mass media strategy used, similar to that of the current NTC. It was concluded that a mass media strategy was effective in terms of continuous reinforcement and a decrease in the prevalence of smoking at the time.
As well as a mass media strategy, the NTC employs a hard sell strategy. This is evidenced by the ‘hard-hitting’ prime-time television advertisements and graphic images printed on cigarette packaging produced by the NTC, which are often referred to as ‘shock advertising’ or ‘fear tactics’. According to Ellis (2006) fear tactics and graphic advertising are an appropriate and effective approach for reducing the negative impact of smoking.
In terms of routes of persuasion, the design of NTC advertising indicates intended central and peripheral route processes. For example; the television and radio advertisements, Doctor’s television, and the Quit now website indicate a central route process because these types of advertising require individual’s to think about what they’ve been told/heard and read, and evaluate the information in order to make a decision to change their attitude or not. Graphic images on cigarette packaging, bus advertisements, and posters generally require individuals to remember a catch phrase (i.e. ‘every cigarette is doing you damage’), a slogan (i.e. ‘quit now’) or simply the images advertised, indicating a peripheral process.
The NTC uses a variety of techniques to aid its advertising and influence attitude change, specifically those which appeal by reason. Techniques evident in NTC advertising are;
§ Logical argument – presents both the negatives of smoking, and the positives of smoking cessation.
§ Scientific evidence – presents statistical information, facts and figures.
§ Proof – presents physical evidence of tumors, lung cancer, brain clots, gangrene, and rotting teeth.
According to Stillman (2007) mass media campaigns are one of the most effective means to reduce smoking. ‘Evaluation of Australia's famous 'Every cigarette is doing you damage' ad shows that after the first six months of the mass media campaign smoking rates in Australia dropped by 1.4 per cent, representing 190,000 fewer smokers. An economic evaluation has shown that the campaign was excellent value for money and resulted in significant savings to the health system.’ (Stillman, 2007)
Beliefs and attitudes are necessary for adapting to new situations and attitude change is necessary for arriving at new situations. Theories such as classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social/observational learning have been developed to explain how attitudes form. Furthermore, theories have also been developed to explain how and why attitudes need to change. It is a general consensus that attitudes are largely changed by persuasion, as the elaboration likelihood model and the Yale attitude change approach suggest. A case example of attitude change through persuasion is the Australian National Tobacco Campaign. This campaign has been designed based on routes specified by the elaboration likelihood model, and employs techniques which generally appeal by reason to the target audience. Overall, the Australian National Tobacco Campaign has been deemed a success in terms of smoking prevalence, and has also been economically worthwhile.
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