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Guilt encourages excessive drinking, finds study

According to a novel research, the popular advertising approach relying on guilt or shame to stamp out drinking habits and bring out good behavior can backfire, goading people to consume more liquor.

Nidhi Agrawal, an expert in consumer psychology at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and co-author of the study stated, “That’s what blows my mind. The ads aren’t just ineffective … they hurt the very cause you’re trying to help.”

The researchers call this “defensive processing” of information. According to them, the feelings of remorse about a drunken night may be enough to keep one off the bottle but focusing on the consequences of the behavior can inspire them to indulge in excesses out of some illogical defiance.

“We’re all defensive – ask our mothers,” said Agrawal. “We feel shame when we do something mean or bad, but we cannot function in this world if we go around thinking we are mean, bad people.

“If you overload people with these emotions when they’re already feeling guilty, then you give them an incentive to dissent … because we need to preserve our notions of ourselves as good people.”

1200 undergraduates questioned

The researchers conducted a study to evaluate the link between feelings of guilt and shame and risky behaviors such as binge drinking.

The experiment involved 1,200 undergraduates who were exposed to two anti-alcohol ads provoking feeling of self-disgust associated with excessive drinking.

The students were then asked to complete a questionnaire about their drinking sessions in the following year compared with the previous one.

Findings of the study

The results revealed the guilt-laden students were more inclined to indulge in binging in the coming year when exposed to anti-drinking campaigns focusing on shame and guilt.

The researchers noted the students reacted adversely to the advertisement, resisting the good intentions of the message and resorting to the very behavior it was trying to discourage.

The reaction was more pronounced among those already burdened with guilt sentiments for other reasons.

Additionally, most of the students considered themselves safe from the negative consequences of binge drinking while they rated their friends as vulnerable.

Study researcher Adam Duhachek, a marketing professor at Indiana University stated, “Because people aren’t as defensive when assessing their friends, they felt their friends were at greater risk while they were not.”

According to the researchers, advertisements meant to elicit emotional state of guilt are just not limited to binge drinking but also address issues like drug and steroid use, sexually transmitted diseases, and smoking.

“The situation is worse than wasted money or effort,” said Duhachek. “These ads ultimately may do more harm than good, because they have the potential to spur more of the behavior they’re trying to prevent.”

source: Med Guru

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