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You say 'reckless drinking' like it's a bad thing

February 24, 2010 | 12:28 pm

Horsebeer Let this be a lesson to creators of well-intentioned, if not well-thought-out, public service ads: Messages meant to induce shame and guilt about alcohol abuse might not do what they're supposed to do.

Researchers at Northwestern University and Indiana University found that such ads can trigger some viewers' tendencies to be defensive about their actions, increasing the likelihood they'll behave, shall we say, unwisely.

The "feel guilty" or "feel ashamed" messages don't land in a vacuum, the researchers found. They can  interact with existing feelings of guilt and shame. And really, who needs that? Better to shrug off the whole notion. Or so the mental thought process goes.

Here's the full study, to be published soon in the Journal of Marketing Research, and the news release from Indiana University.

Plus a few quick stats, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on binge drinking. One of the more jarring ones: "About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 years in the United States is in the form of binge drinks."

Obviously, binge drinking is an issue. So perhaps some caution in attempts to combat it would be prudent.

The researchers write: "Despite the use of ad frames that may involve self-conscious emotions, little research explains the conditions under which such appeals are effective. Our research suggests that guilt and shame appeals should be used cautiously."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: A man wearing a horse mask drinks beer during a festival earlier this month in Prague. If he's already feeling guilt or shame, it might be best not to try to elicit further emotions of that sort.

Credit: Michal Cizek / AFP / Getty Images