A few days ago Communication Research published a paper that found that graphic warning labels on cigarette packages not deter smokers to quit the habit:
Young adults (N = 435) were randomly assigned to a cigarette package featuring a graphic image or a package featuring no image. Utilizing both structural equation modeling and multivariate analyses, the results indicate that graphic warning labels are associated with freedom threat perceptions directly and reactance indirectly. In addition, exposure to graphic cigarette warning labels resulted in higher freedom threat perceptions, negative cognitions, and source domineeringness.
The finding is interesting to us for two reasons. First, because it shows that scare tactics don’t work (at least on this context) — governments should focus more on education campaigns and promoting healthy lifestyles, rather than resort to fear to influence the behavior of their citizens.
Second, the finding confirms —for the umpteenth time— that people can not be manipulated at the whim of a message-sender in order for us to behave in this or that way, and that the processes of critical reception of messages are much more complex than just watching-and-obeying, as a lot of people with a fairly utilitarian conception of human beings like to think.