College Students’ Responses to Emotional Anti–Alcohol Abuse Media Messages: Should We Scare or Amuse Them?

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This study examined college students’ responses to emotional anti–alcohol abuse media messages (i.e., fear vs. humor appeal) aimed at discouraging heavy/binge drinking. An experiment was conducted with 94 college students. As expected, college students generally expressed higher levels of interest in anti–alcohol abuse media messages when watching fear appeal than those watching humor appeal. However, college binge drinkers who watched the fear appeal reported lower levels of readiness to change their drinking behavior than those who watched the humor appeal. This pattern was the opposite among college nonbinge drinkers, in that college nonbinge drinkers were more likely to say they would change their drinking behaviors when exposed to fear appeal than those who were exposed to humor appeal or those who did not watch any media messages. Conventional fear appeal to scare college binge drinkers seems ineffective and even counterproductive while humor appeal, if well designed, could offer alternative ways to communicate with college binge drinkers.

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