Digging Deeper Into Your Brain on Drugs


Carson B. Wagner, an advertising professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has studied the effects of colorful anti-drug ads on viewers using not just explicit self-reporting of attitudes but a technique known as response latency measurement of strength of association:

?Rather than directly asking research participants to express their attitudes about drugs, response latency SOA measures allow researchers to gauge people?s attitudes without their direct knowledge, thereby yielding a more accurate measure of the research participant?s attitudes that better predicts behavioral decision-making under various conditions.?
Essentially, response latency measurement involves recording the time it takes a research participant to categorize a positive or negative adjective after being primed with a certain concept?in this instance, illicit drugs. The more quickly the subject categorizes negative adjectives such as ?bad? or ?horrible,? as opposed to positive adjectives such as ?good? or ?wonderful,? the stronger and more negative their association with the idea of illicit drugs.

Wagner measured drug attitudes after viewing some Partnership for a Drug-Free America ads using both standard methods and response latency tests:

The results showed that people who self-reported their attitudes after viewing the anti-drug ads expressed strong anti-drug sentiments, as opposed to the weaker anti-drug sentiments measured in the response latency tests after viewing the same anti-drug ads. These findings suggested that, compared to response latency measures, self-report measures exaggerated the effectiveness of anti-drug ads…… ?Based on these findings, the self-report surveys may have produced inflated claims of the ads? effects,? he concludes.

One of Wagner's counterintuitive conclusions from this is that for maximal effectiveness, government drug propagandists should try to make their ads less attention-grabbing and to situate them during programs that people are less interested in. (They could also just stop the propaganda war, but Professor Wagner doesn't mention that.)

[Link via Ben Woosley of Libertarian Longhorns]