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J Stud Alcohol. 2005 Sep;66(5):648-57.

Effects of cautionary messages and vulnerability factors on viewers' perceptions of alcohol advertisements.

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Department of Community Medicine and Health Care, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington 06030-6325, USA.



This study examined how individual difference vulnerability factors affect college students' perceptions of beer commercial actors' age, attractiveness and drinking. We were also interested in whether viewers' exposure to a cautionary message would affect their perceptions of the actors' drinking behavior.


Three groups of college students were exposed to the same set of two alcohol advertisements. After watching the ads, each group received a different cautionary message prior to answering questions about the ad's content: (1) a neutral message (viewed by 42% [n = 119] of the sample), (2) a U.S. federal warning (viewed by 31% [n = 89]) and (3) an industry message (viewed by 27% [n = 76]). We also examined three putative vulnerability factors: age (underage 21 or not), gender and family history of alcohol problems (yes or no) as well as the effects of quantity-frequency of alcohol consumption, episodic heavy drinking, severity of alcohol dependence, disinhibition sensation seeking and the eight factors of the Alcohol Expectancy Scale.


The cautionary messages had no effect on viewers' perceptions of characters' age, attractiveness and drinking behavior. Although neither of the commercials depicted the physical act of drinking, the student raters nevertheless perceived the characters to be heavy episodic drinkers. Those reporting more alcohol dependence symptoms perceived increased drinking for the male characters, as did females and viewers with expectancies for social and physical pleasure.


Perceptions of the drinking in beer commercials are based in part on the character depicted in the ad and in part on the demographic and personal vulnerability factors of the viewer.

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