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Reactivity of Addicted Users to Advertising Cues

Institution: University of California, Irvine
Investigator(s): Dante Pirouz, PHD, MBA, MA
Award Cycle: 2009 (Cycle 18) Grant #: 18DT-0001 Award: $30,000
Subject Area: Tobacco-Use Prevention and Cessation
Award Type: Dissertation Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Advertising is a ubiquitous and pervasive environmental cue. Consumers, for example, are exposed on average to three thousand ads per day (Schwartz 2004). Under normal circumstances, consumers choose which advertising cues to attend to both consciously and non-consciously (Bargh 2002; Grunert 1996). However for addicted consumers, environmental cues may elicit a unique type of response affecting decision making and driving behavior (Bernheim and Rangel 2004). The aim of this dissertation is to explore how environmental cues affect addictive product users, specifically cigarette smokers. It will include two types of studies, one using a brain imaging technique developed in cognitive science and neuroscience called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the other using a series of lab experiments involving several behavioral tasks with cue-exposed addicted users.

While addiction has been traditionally defined as a psychological dependence on one or more illegal drugs, the definition has expanded over the past 20 years to include “any substance use or reinforcing behavior that has an appetitive nature, has a compulsive and repetitive quality, is self-destructive, and is experienced as difficult to modify or stop” (DiClemente 2006; Orford 1985). This includes both illicit and legal substances and can include a wide range of behaviors such as overeating, overspending, credit card usage, and gambling (Goodman 1990; Hirschman 1992; O'Guinn and Faber 1989). In fact, millions of people suffer from the addictive consumption of legal, advertised substances such as cigarettes (Office of Applied Studies 2006). Thus, understanding how addictive product cues may affect addicted users and non-users is both an important contribution to consumer behavior theoretical models and to the improvement of regulatory measures to minimize consumer harm.

For heavily marketed products that are addictive such as cigarettes, alcohol, and even food, advertising cues may induce craving which might lead to higher purchase and consumption especially for addicted users (Carter and Tiffany 1999; Jansen 1998). While managers may view these cue-induced reactions as successful marketing, for the consumer there may be a number of negative outcomes and behaviors that result from exposure to these cues such as overconsumption, impaired cognitive ability, increased impulsivity or higher willingness to pay (Bernheim and Rangel 2002, 2004, 2005; Sayette et al. 1994; Sayette and Hufford 1994). In addition, cue-induced craving may even have negative outcomes for the firm by affecting memory and attention leading to ad recognition and brand recall effects (Grant et al. 1996) or increased impulsivity possibly leading to brand switching (Sayette and Hufford 1994).

A great deal of debate, both in the literature and among advertisers and public policy makers, centers on how environmental cues influence people to engage in risky and addictive behaviors (Pollay 1986; Pollay et al. 1996a). Marketers and manufacturers argue that advertising and promotional materials offer consumers brand options and information that enhance the consumer’s ability to make choices (Goldberg, Davis, and O'Keefe 2006; Graham and Gilly 1988), while researchers and public health officials argue that there is a strong correlation between detrimental addictive behavior and exposure to marketing for addictive products (Pollay 1986; Pollay et al. 1996b). There remain unanswered questions regarding how addicted users respond to this type of stimulus. In addition, there are conflicting indications of how craving elicited by cues impacts cognitive processing, including memory for the ads and cognitive depletion leading to impulsivity outside the addictive substance domain. Given the ongoing debate on whether advertising cues drive addictive behavior, there is a need for a better understanding of the underlying psychological and physiological mechanisms that drive the reactive response to advertising cues by addicted users.

Research Questions and Methods

The first research question of this dissertation is whether environmental cues – namely cigarette advertising – cause a reactive response in the form of increased craving in addicted users vs. non-users resulting in increased craving, cognitive resource depletion and impulsivity and decreased memory function. Further the question of whether cue-exposed users will suffer from increased susceptibility to impulsivity and risky choices in domains not related to smoking will also be investigated. Additionally the research question of whether explicit or implicit elements in the ads evoke the reactive response in users will also be examined.

This dissertation will investigate these key research questions, relying on neural imaging in Study 1 and behavioral methods to investigate the effect of environmental cues on addictive behavior in Study 2. The first study will use fMRI to examine the underlying neural response to addictive (cigarette) advertising versus non-addictive (non-cigarette) advertising in addicted users (smokers) and non-users (non-smokers) and specifically which types of ad elements elicit the response. The primary goal of the study is determine whether addicted users experience a craving response when exposed to addictive product advertising versus other types of advertising. Preliminary data from seven subjects have already been collected and data collection from 13 additional subjects is planned.

The second main study will be a lab experiment building on the results of the imaging study to examine further the impact of cue-activated responses to advertising stimuli on ad recognition, brand recall, willingness to pay, and impulsive choice for both addictive and non-addictive products. The study will recruit 60 adult smokers to view the ads and then complete a questionnaire, which will include an ad recognition task, a brand recall task, an impulsive choice task, willingness to pay task and a brand-switching task.