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Low Message Sensation Health Promotion Videos Are Better Remembered and Activate Areas of the Brain Associated with Memory Encoding


Greater sensory stimulation in advertising has been postulated to facilitate attention and persuasion. For this reason, video ads promoting health behaviors are often designed to be high in “message sensation value” (MSV), a standardized measure of sensory intensity of the audiovisual and content features of an ad. However, our previous functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study showed that low MSV ads were better remembered and produced more prefrontal and temporal and less occipital cortex activation, suggesting that high MSV may divert cognitive resources from processing ad content. The present study aimed to determine whether these findings from anti-smoking ads generalize to other public health topics, such as safe sex. Thirty-nine healthy adults viewed high- and low MSV ads promoting safer sex through condom use, during an fMRI session. Recognition memory of the ads was tested immediately and 3 weeks after the session. We found that low MSV condom ads were better remembered than the high MSV ads at both time points and replicated the fMRI patterns previously reported for the anti-smoking ads. Occipital and superior temporal activation was negatively related to the attitudes favoring condom use (see Condom Attitudes Scale, Methods and Materials section). Psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis of the relation between occipital and fronto-temporal (middle temporal and inferior frontal gyri) cortices revealed weaker negative interactions between occipital and fronto-temporal cortices during viewing of the low MSV that high MSV ads. These findings confirm that the low MSV video health messages are better remembered than the high MSV messages and that this effect generalizes across public health domains. The greater engagement of the prefrontal and fronto-temporal cortices by low MSV ads and the greater occipital activation by high MSV ads suggest that that the “attention-grabbing” high MSV format could impede the learning and retention of public health messages


  • Anna Rose Childress
  • Shira J. Blady
  • Kanchana Jaganthan
  • Daniel D. Langleben
  • James W. Loughead
  • Daniel Romer
  • David Seelig
  • An-Li Wang