Study: Religious PSAs Don't Influence Drinking


Religious arguments aren't effective at combating drinking, at least in the Middle East, according to research by a Michigan State University professor.

The professor, Saleem Alhabash, created two pairs of online advertistements that warned of the dangers of consuming alcohol, according to Science Daily.

Two of the ads used secular, health-based concerns in an appeal to avoid alcohol, while the other two ads quoted verses from the Koran that specifically forbid drinking alcohol.

Then, Alhabash had the messages displayed to Facebook users in Palestine. The users who viewed the ads were asked whether they'd participate in anti-alcohol campaigns or warn others not to drink.

Alhabash said he was surprised when the users responded less favorably to the ads featuring scripture quotes.

"What we found is where there is religious rhetoric, people do not want to do this as much as those who are exposed to the same exact message, only without the religious message," Alhabash said.

He believes a form of reverse psychology is at work, according to Science Daily. When a religious message is added to an otherwise secular anti-alcohol PSA, viewers interpret it as trying to control behavior, he said. That has the opposite of the intended effect, making viewers more likely to reject the PSA.

"Then, when you put a religious spin on it, it becomes too intense to handle," he said. "The viewer may question motives. Is someone doing this for religious reasons or for more civil, altruistic reasons?"

This is not the first time Alhabash's research on online media and alcohol has resulted in headlines. In 2015, he released a study showing the more users engaged with alcohol-related posts on Facebook, the more likely they were to have a drink, according to Esquire.

Sources: Science Daily, Esquire / Photo credit: TrafficJan82/Wikimedia Commons

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