Can we take control of how we process anti-alcohol messages?

Published on April 30 2019 – Persuasive messages are important to change people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is still unclear, however, if people can we consciously regulate our response to a persuasive message? In a recent study co-authored by ACHC member Christin Scholz, researchers examined this question in the context of anti-binge drinking advertisements using functional neuroimaging. 

In this study, the researchers investigated whether message receivers were able to consciously regulate their reactions to anti-binge drinking ads based on simple instructions and whether this would impact message effectiveness. In a within-subject experiment, sixty participants were randomly instructed to naturally look at each message and have whatever thoughts or feelings they would normally have; or to consciously change how they thought about each ad either in a message-consistent manner) or a message-inconsistent manner.

While participants completed this task, their brain activity was observed using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a method that visualises increased blood flow in specific brain regions. The idea is that increased blood flow in those regions is indicative of increased activity of these regions. All participants also provided self-report ratings of perceived message effectiveness and message self-relevance.

The study showed that a specific brain region (ventro-medial prefrontal cortex), that becomes active when dealing and regulating emotions, was activated in the condition in which people had to think of thoughts and feelings in line with the message content. This area was least active in the message-inconsistent condition. Further, this brain activation was an important predictor of self-reported ratings of message relevance and effectiveness.

Overall, these results suggest that people are able to deliberately regulate their responses to persuasive messaging based on simple instructions and propose mechanisms of emotional reactivity and valuation as underlying drivers of this ability.

The study was financially supported by US grants from National Institutes of Health (1DP2DA03515601), the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (TCORS Pilot Grant P50CA179546), the U.S. Army Research Laboratory including, and HopeLab.

Read more: Doré BP, Cooper N, Scholz C, O’Donnell MB, Falk EB. Cognitive regulation of ventromedial prefrontal activity evokes lasting change in the perceived self-relevance of persuasive messaging. Human Brain Mapping 2019

Link to full paper: click here