Attitude Ambivalence, Social Norms, and Behavioral Intentions: Developing Effective Antitobacco Persuasive Communications

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This study assessed the moderating effects of attitude ambivalence on the relationship between social norms, attitudes, and behavioral intentions to use tobacco. It was predicted that people would use social norms to reduce attitude ambivalence, and that reduced ambivalence would lead to changes in attitudes and behavioral intentions. To test this hypothesis, participants (N = 152) were exposed to persuasive communications designed to influence attitude ambivalence and perceived social norms regarding tobacco use. Analysis indicated that providing a social norm antagonistic to tobacco use significantly reduced ambivalence among participants reading the ambivalence message (p < .001). Examining changes in tobacco attitudes from pre- to postpersuasive communications demonstrated a significant decrease in tobacco attitudes only for participants reading the ambivalence message who were provided with the antitobacco use norm (p < .001). Ambivalent message participants also expressed significantly lower intentions to use tobacco when provided with social norms indicating antitobacco sentiments (p < .02), and this significant decrease in intentions was associated with changes in attitudes toward tobacco. These results point to the important role of social norms in mediating the effects of attitude ambivalence on subsequent behavior in preventative programs targeting tobacco use.

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