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Aversive Affective Cues in Advertisements: Do They Enhance or Undermine Brand Attitudes?, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology


Most research in evaluative conditioning (EC) documents that a target object acquires the same valence as a co-occurring affective cue. Some recent studies in EC have found that a target object may acquire the opposite valence as the affective cue when people process a negational relation between the object and the cue, supporting a propositional learning mechanism for EC. However, these prior studies involved explicitly instructing respondents to assume that the object opposes (e.g., “prevents”) presented affective cues. The present studies investigate whether and when people will spontaneously process an implicit negational relation between co-occurring stimuli (e.g., a flu-vaccine brand and sickness cue) in the absence of instructions. Across four studies examining the effects of aversive cues in ads promoting vaccine products, we find that using aversive cues can enhance attitudes towards a co-occurring vaccine brand even when there is no explicit instruction that directs people to consider the negational relation between co-occurring stimuli, reflecting the spontaneity of propositional evaluative learning. However, these positive effects of aversive cues on brand attitudes occurred only when people had sufficient cognitive resources. When cognitive resources were constrained, aversive cues led to more negative attitudes toward the co-occurring vaccine brand, indicating the relative inefficiency of propositional learning.




Angela Y. Lee, Galen Bodenhausen, Xiaomeng Fan

Date Published



Lee, Angela Y., Galen Bodenhausen, and Xiaomeng Fan. 2021. Aversive Affective Cues in Advertisements: Do They Enhance or Undermine Brand Attitudes?. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


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