THE PERSUASIVE APPEAL OF DISGUST: EXAMINING THE EFFECTS OF GRUESOME IMAGES AND REPULSIVE FEELINGS IN HEALTH AND PROSOCIAL COMMUNICATION
Researchers have been fascinated by disgust’s power to influence thoughts and behaviors in undesirable ways—especially in circumstances where the emotion should have no influence at all. In contrast, the explicit use of disgust to promote positive outcomes is not as widely studied. Described as the emotion of unfettered rejection, disgust is considered helpful for promoting avoidance of harmful behaviors, such as smoking, but not for encouraging socially supportive behaviors, such as those that benefit the welfare of others. However, the health promotion literature has mainly considered disgust’s influence with select populations, and research on its use to promote other social issues is relatively dormant. This dissertation applies tenants from functional emotion and cognitive appraisal theories to three studies, extending research on disgust and health persuasion and initiating inquiry regarding disgust and charitable behavior. The first study explores how adolescents visually engage with disgust depictions in cigarette graphic warning labels and the relationship between attention, emotions, and risk beliefs. The second study also considers attentional processes, as well as message elaboration and behavioral intentions, in the context of a charitable appeal. Together, these studies suggest that disgust repels attention but effectively recruits other negative emotions that facilitate persuasive outcomes in both contexts. The final study tests the hypothesis that the prosocial persuasive context can shift processing patterns for disgust stimuli. Compared to disgust exposure independent of the prosocial context, the interaction of disgust exposure and a prosocial appeal reduced participants certainty appraisals and increased their empathetic responses. Results also show that feelings of disgust are not associated with behavior and suggest disgust appeals can promote helping behaviors similar to other emotional stimuli. Findings across the three studies have implications for how we conceptualize disgust and provide some considerations for the strategic use of disgust in persuasive communication.
Emotion; Disgust; Health Communication; Media Psychology; Persuasion; Prosocial Behavior; Social psychology; Communication
Byrne, Sahara E.
Schrader, Dawn Ellen; Niederdeppe, Jeffrey D. H.; Mathios, Alan D.
Ph. D., Communication
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis