The Third-Person Effect Is Why We All Think We're Too Smart for Ad Campaigns

If you've ever watched a weight loss commercial or stared at a flu shot advertisement on the train and thought "Who would fall for this?" then you've experienced the third-party effect. It traces back to WWII propaganda and refers to when people view mass media messages as having a greater effect on others than on themselves.

Too Big For Your Britches

Why do you think only 40 percent of adults in the U.S. get their flu shot each year? According to a November 2016 study published in the Journal of Health Communication, many of us feel that we're too smart to fall for campaigns designed to manipulate (even if they're for our benefit). But everyone else? They'll fall for it.

In the study, researchers presented a bunch of news clips from 2009 regarding the H1N1 swine flu epidemic to undergraduate volunteers. The articles spoke about the severity of the virus, as well as how to avoid contracting it. Instead of feeling motivated to get a flu shot after being exposed to the clips, the subjects considered themselves immune to the messages. However, most of the volunteers decided that the rest of the group would likely be influenced.

No One Is Above The Flu

In a statement, lead author Hyunmin Lee, from Drexel University, says this study "suggests that 'the self' perceives 'the others' to use different, less intelligent, criteria, such as relying on source expertise, rather than assessing the health message in its entirety." The findings are especially important for journalists, who should keep this third-party effect bias in mind. There's a marked distrust in the media's ability to communicate public health information. As for the non-journalists among us? Don't pass on important things, like getting your flu shot, just because you think you're above advertisements.

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Written by Curiosity Staff March 8, 2017

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