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Build a Better PSA

The science of persuasion can help us make healthier choices.

Look on the Bright Side

Doctors’ anti-smoking messages are more effective when they focus on the benefits of quitting rather than on the damage smoking causes, finds a meta-analysis in Clinical Cancer Research . Though the applicability of these findings to public health warnings requires a further look, according to Yale psychiatrist Benjamin Toll, they suggest that gain-framed messages are more persuasive than loss-framed ones.

Three’s a Charm

When laying out persuasive points, three is the magic number, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing . In fact, adding a fourth claim can increase the reader’s skepticism of the entire message. “Three is believed to be a sufficient amount of information for drawing conclusions,” says Suzanne Shu, a decision researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Spread the word...

Delivering information through interpersonal channels like Facebook and Twitter can make it seem more relevant to people’s lives, especially if it’s shared among close friends and family.

...but watch the feedback

Chatter from the peanut gallery can dampen the impact of a PSA. In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, smokers rated YouTube-style anti-smoking videos as less effective when there were comments attached. Derisive comments were the most damaging, but even positive ones seemed to distract from the message.

Star Power

Studies on the impact of AIDS-related warnings indicate that the delivery of a PSA by someone readers recognize and identify with may increase public attentiveness to health risks.