We also included additional categories to create a more detailed view of the types of responses that may be reflected. Table 1.
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- The Replacement.
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In this first classification, cognitive responses were analyzed not only according to their nature, but also according to their valence positive or negative for the categories that allowed for doing so. Moreover, we specified the valence of certain statements judgments by adding to them a value effect desired or undesired. Certain comments, although apparently positive e.
Thus, whenever a statement touched on an emotional cue music, sound effects, visual effects, colour, tone , it was identified as one occurrence. Each session ended with the presentation of a short questionnaire containing questions about age, gender, media consumption, and voting intentions for the upcoming federal election.
Two research assistants—one Anglophone and one Francophone—conducted the experimental sessions, and the instructions to participants were systematized. The verbatim instructions are available upon request in both languages.
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We explore differences in psychophysiological reactions to televised ads using relatively simple within-respondent analyses of covariance ANCOVA of both SCL and heart rate, averaged over 5-second intervals. The direct effect captures the possibility that certain tones of ads produce an initial impact that is greater or lesser in magnitude than others; the interaction with time allows for the possibility that the effect of negative ads is more or less long-lasting. Our first hypothesis H1 states that respondents will be more attentive and activated on a physiological level when exposed to negative electoral ads, compared with positive or mixed ads.
Results confirm the expectation that the tone of ads is related to levels of skin conductance—there are signs of a relationship regarding both the direct effect of tone and the impact of tone over time. In so doing, the figure shows both the direction and magnitude of the impact of tone on SCL. Table 2. Results are based on 8 positive or negative stories only, using data averaged at 5-second intervals. Clearly, ceteris paribus, tone matters to levels of skin conductance. Respondents have roughly similar SCL for the first ad in the experiment.
SCL declines gradually with positive ads; it does not for negative ads. Of course, no respondent actually sees nine positive or negative ads—these are predicted values, based on a hypothetical respondent seeing either exclusively positive or negative ads. The overall finding here is that ongoing activation is dependent in part on negativity, thus corroborating part of H1 regarding the higher physiological activation provoked by negative ads. Figure 1.
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Skin conductance according to advertising tone. Similar results are apparent for heart rate, which is used here as an indicator of attentiveness. Results are based on 5-second averages, and the model is identical to the one used for SCL. Again, physiological measure varies systematically with the tone of the ad. Here, negativity is associated with a decreased heart rate, pointing toward increased attentiveness.
The impact of tone on heart rate is seen over the course of the experiment. In short, attentiveness appears to increase over the experiment with negative ads; this is not the case for positive ads. Consequently, the other part of H1 relating to participants being more attentive to negative ads is also supported. Figure 2. Heart rate according to advertising tone. Table 3.
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The 24 televised electoral ads generated a total of cognitive responses. Types of cognitive responses were given rigorous operational definitions, and two research assistants were trained in the application of these definitions prior to the coding. A kappa value of 0. Differences in coding were resolved by discussion.
Our second hypothesis states that participants will show an increase in unfavourable responses aimed at negative political ads as opposed to positive or mixed-message ads H2. Table 4 shows the frequency distribution of categories of statements based on the three types of ads. Most cognitive responses consisted of recalls Table 4.
Distribution frequency of cognitive responses according to advertising tone.
This finding supports H2. This is interesting when contrasted with physiological responses. While the negative ads generated more emotional and attention responses than positive ads, the results on cognitive impacts show a greater resistance to persuasion, as evidenced by the increased number of counterarguments. Therefore, the physiological activation associated with negative ad content negative bias does not necessarily lead to greater persuasion.
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Our data actually indicates quite the contrary. Being more alert and active with respect to negative content could mean that an individual is thinking more about how to counter the information presented to him or her. Table 5. To this end, we predicted greater cognitive effort in relation to ads that match the partisan affiliation of the participants H3.
The results of the study confirm our theoretical expectation see Table 6. Table 6. Mean cognitive elaboration according to party affiliation and party represented. What role do emotional cues play and what is their influence in the way viewers process information taken from televised ads?
A total of comments were written about emotional cues, particularly regarding music Subsequent analyses will be conducted with a larger sample of the Canadian electorate to better reflect the relative influence of emotional cues in the information-processing of televised ad campaigns. Table 7. Mean cognitive elaboration according to type of cue. This article presents the preliminary data and methodological framework of a series of experiments conducted during the Canadian federal election campaign in April with a sample of Canadian voters.
These experiments were designed to assess the emotional and cognitive impact of positive, negative, and mixed televised political ads. Through a multi-methodological approach, we identified both physiological responses via the combined measurement of fluctuations in skin conductance and heart rate and cognitive reactions in viewers of electoral ads, and this during a live election campaign.
However, surveys are not appropriate tools to evaluate the type of spontaneous reaction investigated in this paper. The main strength of experimental designs is related to control, which can notably be ensured by using a random sampling and a comparison group, manipulating the independent variable, including double or treble blinding procedures, using precise measuring tools, and applying standardized statistical tests in the analysis of data.
The scientific and statistical rigour of experimental research maximizes internal validity and increases the probability of generalizing the findings beyond the study sample. One of the limitations of our study is precisely related to external validity issues. Our small sample exclusively composed of students may limit the extent to which it is representative of the parent population and, with it, the generalizability of the study findings.
An interesting element of this study relates to emotional cues. Previous studies have mostly ignored audiovisual attributes of televised advertising images, use of colour, presence of music, et cetera , even if their potency—including the experience of emotions—has been recognized. Our study aims to fill this gap in both the Canadian and international literature. Further analyses need to be done, however, to explain the influence of distinct types of emotional cues on individuals viewing televised political ads.
In general, the preliminary data from this study corroborate the assumptions made beforehand. Firstly, negative televised election ads generate heightened attention levels and a higher level of physiological activation in individuals when compared with positive or mixed messages.
This finding confirms other international analysis on the impact of negative media content. Secondly, participants show an increase in cognitive elaboration while watching ads of the parties with which they identify politically. Finally, participants of the study express more persuasive resistance to negative ad campaigns than to positive and mixed ads.
The next phases of this project will take us across Canada to test our model with a representative sample of participants. These new experiments will measure physiological and cognitive responses that Canadian electoral ads generate in viewers from all over the country, according to various tones, the emotional cues that are inherent in them, and the partisan affiliation of participants.
Note that a number of different models of persuasion indicate that personal relevance of the message is a prerequisite for persuasion.