Do warnings make us *more* likely to break the rules?

“…cigarette warning labels not only failed to deter smoking… it appeared they actually encouraged smokers to light up.”

Via Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy:

In short, the fMRI results showed that cigarette warning labels not only failed to deter smoking, but by activating the nucleus accumbens, it appeared they actually encouraged smokers to light up. We couldn’t help but conclude that those same cigarette warning labels intended to curb smoking, reduce cancer, and save lives had instead become a killer marketing tool for the tobacco industry.

Warning labels on violent TV shows make everyone more likely to watch them:

Warning labels on violent television programs give viewers discretionary advice and, therefore, might arouse reactance in viewers of all ages. Information labels give view- ers information but no advice and, therefore, should not arouse reactance. Five age groups were tested: 9-11 year olds, 12-14 year olds, 15-17 years olds, 18-20 year olds, and adults at least 21 years old. Participants (N 5 900) read descriptions of violent and nonviolent TV programs and rated how much they wanted to watch them. The description contained a warning label, an information label, or no label. Consistent with reactance theory, results showed that warning labels drew people of all ages to violent TV programs. Information labels did not draw viewers to violent programs.

Source: “Effects of Warning and Information Labels on Attraction to Television Violence in Viewers of Different Ages” from Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2006, 36, 9, pp. 2073–2078.

Reading recommendations for healthy food makes us want junk food more:

choice of unhealthy food products is increased after reading recommendations for healthier alternative brands (Fitzsimmons & Lehmann, 2004).

Source: “Nonconscious relationship reactance: When significant others prime opposing goals” from Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43 (2007) 719–726

And definitely don’t mention that other people are breaking the rules when you make a warning. Knowing others are okay violating restrictions makes us more likely to do the same.

Via Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive:

In Arizona, visitors to the state’s Petrified Forest National Park quickly learn from prominent signage that the park’s existence is threatened because so many visitors have been taking pieces of petrified wood from the grounds: “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.” Although these pronouncements and depictions may indeed reflect reality and are well intentioned, the designers of these campaigns may fail to realize that by using negative social proof as part of a rallying cry, they might be inadvertently focusing the audience on the prevalence, rather than the undesirability, of that behavior… In a finding that should petrify the National Park’s management, compared with a no-sign control condition in which 2.92 percent of the pieces were stolen, the social proof message resulted in more theft (7.92 percent). In essence, it almost tripled theft. Thus, theirs was not a crime prevention strategy; it was a crime promotion strategy.

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