NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 12, 2007

CAUTION: Warning Messages Work – Don’t They?

Today’s session on warning messages combined lessons learned from tobacco research with findings from preliminary gambling-focused studies. Douglas A. Luke, Ph.D., professor of community health at Saint Luis University School of Public Health, and director of the Center for Tobacco Policy Research, began the discussion by presenting a history of warning labels, which began in 1957 when the first legislation requiring cigarette packs to carry a warning label was introduced in the U.S. Congress.

Luke emphasized the fact that cigarette warning labels in the United States are hard to see – whether on cigarette packages or in advertisements. He contrasted U.S. labels against those from other countries, particularly Canada, where the labels are more dynamic, colorful and direct. He also referred to pending legislation expanding FDA regulation over warning labels that calls for warning messages that are more direct.

According to Luke, research shows that the warning labels that are most effective are prominent (in size, graphics/color and contrast), novel – using a new idea or message, “graphic” – using images to get the point across, comprehensive and relevant. Recent research also has documented that effective warning labels can lead to greater knowledge about the risks of smoking, greater negative affect towards smoking cues, reduced attractiveness of smoker images, reduced attractiveness of cigarette packaging, increased attention to quit and increased actual quit rates.

Luke pointed out that while the tobacco research can be informative for problem gambling stakeholders, the end goal of tobacco warning labels is much different from those that might be used in gambling. Since even one cigarette can have an adverse health consequence, the ultimate goal is to get people to quit smoking or never to start, said Luke. But with gambling, he said, it is an activity that can be enjoyed responsibly by the majority of the population, so the goal is safe use, not abstinence.

James Whelan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at The University of Memphis, gave attendees an overview of a few studies conducted with gambling warning labels. He began by pointing out characteristics that need to be in place to show that a warning label ahs had an effect. These characteristics include message integrity (i.e. is it a good, relevant message?), delivery (is the message delivered in a way that it can be acquired by the intended recipient?), and reception (has the message been actively received?).

According to Whelan, message integrity is important because people believe they have control over the situation and consider luck to be internal and/or predictable, a phenomenon he referred to as “magical thinking.” This “magical thinking” is important to understand and consider in the development of effective warning messages, said Whelan.

Overall, the research has shown that warning messages can be delivered with integrity and they can influence thoughts and behaviors. Whelan spoke about the fact that, with the video technology used on slot machines, warning messages for gambling have the ability to be more creative, more visually engaging and more interactive than the static tobacco warning labels are.

Through the research, said Whelan, investigators have determined that, to be effectively received, warning messages should be memorable, be short and worded for audience, be interactive (e.g. the gambler would have to touch the message on the screen to make it close), reduce the effort needed to comply, and embedded in an educational effort

To access Whelan’s 2006 study, Use of warning messages to modify gambling beliefs and behavior in a laboratory investigation, click here, or visit the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders’ NCRG Conference Resource Page. When prompted, please enter the case-sensitive password: institute.


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