Reading Responsibly

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“Drink Responsibly.” “Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.” “Don’t Text While Driving.” These are just a few of the warning messages often included in public service announcements, or PSAs, and on consumer product advertisements. While warning messages are designed to provide consumers with important information for making decisions, they often don’t seem to work with young adults who tend to underestimate the risk of using hazardous products such as cigarettes and alcohol.

Yongick Jeong, Assistant Professor in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, is performing research in LSU’s Media Effects Lab, or MEL, to answer questions about how audiences process health warning messages in different conditions.

“When I first started this research, I thought I was late to study health communications, and that it would be difficult to add to previous results,” Jeong said. “But I found that research on health warning labels was lacking.”

Jeong specializes in health communication and advertising research, using resources at MEL to gauge the psychological impacts of warning labels included in product advertisements and PSAs. Recently, Jeong brought LSU student volunteers into MEL’s living room space to measure of effects of health warning messages on participants’ memory and mood. Each student first looked at product advertisements and public service announcements associated with drinking, smoking, or texting while driving, and then answered a questionnaire related to her or her reactions to the messages.

Jeong found that students recognized and remembered warning messages in advertisements, for example in advertisements for Olde Town beer, better than they did those in PSAs. Participants were more favorable to warning labels in PSAs than to those in ads, but had no intentions of changing their behaviors after viewing PSAs. Jeong suggests that audiences process warning labels in ads differently than they do those in PSAs.

As of 2012, one-fifth to one-third of young adult drivers likely text while driving. Research has suggested that alcoholic beverage industry-implemented warnings may actually lend themselves to a “pro-drinking” mentality among young adults. In this context, Jeong’s studies on the effectiveness of health warning labels in different conditions may be useful to the creation of better campaigns aimed at changing attitudes and behaviors of young adults using hazardous products.

“In the future, if advertisers and public service organizations desire behavior change on top of general awareness and positive attitudes, they may do well to place information on how to change one’s behavior in their ads and PSAs,” Jeong said. According to his results, PSAs may be a better avenue for delivering information about behavior change than ads, where PSAs may perform better than ads in promoting positive attitudes toward warning labels. However, young audiences seem to remember warning labels better when they are a part of product advertisements.

Jeong also conducts research on Super Bowl advertisements and environmental warning labels. He uses the flat screen television and living room environment available at MEL to re-create the natural viewer setting in his studies.

Jeong hopes that his work in the Media Effects Lab will inspire other researchers and students at LSU to become involved in communications research. He also conducts research on “advergaming,” the practice of placing product advertisements in video games. He has studied how gamers play particular games differently on X-Box as opposed to Wii platforms, for example, and how these differences lead to differences in perceptions of in-game advertisements.

“My goal is to help students learn and get hooked into research,” Jeong said. “I am more spoiled here at LSU than researchers at other universities to have access to both the facilities at the Media Effects Lab and to students who want to participate in research.”