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Keywords:

  • Attentional bias;
  • dot probe;
  • graphic imagery;
  • health warnings;
  • text caption;
  • tobacco;
  • visual attention

Abstract

Aims

The present study aims to assess the extent to which attention to UK cigarette warnings is attributable to the graphic nature of the content.

Design

A visual dot probe task was utilised, with the warnings serving as critical stimuli that were manipulated for the presence of graphic versus neutral image content, and the accompanying text caption. This mixed design yielded image content (graphic versus neutrally-matched images) and presence (versus absence) of text caption as within subjects variables and smoking status as a between-participants variable.

Setting

The experiment took place within the laboratories of a UK university.

Participants

Eighty-six psychology undergraduates (51% smokers, 69% female), predominantly of Caucasian ethnicity took part.

Measurements

Reaction times towards probes replacing graphic images relative to probes replacing neutral images were utilised to create an index of attentional bias.

Findings

Bias scores (M = 10.20 ± 2.56) highlighted that the graphic image content of the warnings elicited attentional biases (relative to neutral images) for smokers. This only occurred in the presence of an accompanying text caption [t (43) = 3.950, P < 0.001] as opposed to when no caption was present [t (43) = 0.029, P = 0.977]. Non-smokers showed no biases in both instances.

Conclusions

Graphic imagery on cigarette packets increases attentional capture, but only when accompanied by a text message about health risks.