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Volume 8 – Winter 2015

To reach adolescents with high trait reactance and sensation seeking, taking risks may be beneficial: a case study of the truth® campaign.

Beth J. Bollinger, MA,1 Meghan Bridgid Moran, PhD.2
Cases in Public Health Communication & Marketing. 2015;8:115-135.

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, WA., USA.
2 Department of Health, Behavior & Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD., USA.


Background: Traditional anti-smoking campaigns targeting adolescents have experienced limited success. This was, in part, because adolescents at highest risk for smoking tend to have higher levels of sensation seeking and trait reactance, leading them to reject traditionally formatted, authoritative anti-smoking messages. To overcome these challenges, truth® (a tobacco industry counter-marketing campaign) was designed to target high sensation seeking and trait reactance youth. Although campaign effects on youth smoking are well-documented, limited work has explored the specific mechanisms through which the results were achieved.

Methods: Using data from an online survey of 193 adolescents aged 12-15 years old who never tried smoking, we examined whether sensation seeking and trait reactance moderated the effects of truth® campaign exposure on tobacco industry beliefs, smoking beliefs, and smoking susceptibility. Bivariate and multivariate analyses controlling for demographic characteristics were conducted to determine associations between variables and assess interaction effects between exposure and personality traits.

Results: Youth with higher levels of sensation seeking and trait reactance expressed stronger pro-smoking beliefs; the likelihood of smoking susceptibility was increased among trait reactant youth. Pro-smoking beliefs and smoking susceptibility were lower among those exposed than unexposed, but smoking susceptibility was only marginally significant. In multivariate comparisons, there were marginally significant interaction effects found between exposure and sensation seeking on pro-tobacco industry beliefs, but not between exposure and trait reactance. Pro-industry beliefs among low sensation seekers were higher among those exposed than unexposed to the campaign. In contrast, moderate and high sensation seekers who were exposed had lower pro-industry beliefs than their counterparts who were unexposed, but the differences were not statistically significant. No significant interaction effects between campaign exposure and either personality trait were found on pro-smoking beliefs or smoking susceptibility.

Conclusion: This study’s findings support the argument that the strategies used may have been partially effective at overcoming some of the challenges presented by high sensation seeking and trait reactant youth. (Full-text PDF)


  • • Adolescent
  • • Smoking
  • • Tobacco
  • • Mass media
  • • Health campaigns
  • • Communication
  • • Personality

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