The Effects of a Mindfulness Manipulation on Adolescent Smoking
Evidence suggests that smoking cigarettes increases the likelihood of suffering from heart disease, emphysema, lung cancer, high blood pressure, and premature aging. The smoker is also at risk of many short-term health consequences such as chronic cough, yellow teeth, and unpleasant breath. Smoking is an expensive habit that can cost up to 1500 dollars per year if the individual smokes a pack per day. Tobacco industries direct 90% of recommendation their cigarette advertisements toward today’s youth, hoping to hook another young adolescent into their money making scheme. Onset of smoking in children occurs at an early age due to a number of factors that include pro-social smoking advertisements, peer, and even antismoking campaigns such as DARE. Primary prevention techniques that attempt to stop the behavior before it starts are effective because children are still young enough to be molded and influenced accordingly by the proper role-models (i.e. peers and parents).
Preventative measures, such as informational campaigns are ineffective because they are unrealistic and fail to emphasize on the here and now. These measures focus on the future health risks that may occur 20 or 30 years down the line, which is much to long for a twelve-year-old to concern himself about. Adolescents also believe that they are invincible and therefore not subject to the health risks of all other smokers. For a young adolescent, life is still novel and carefree. The health risks of smoking are not part of a twelve-year-olds mindset-at least not until he or she is grandpa’s age. DARE programs are also ineffective because they simply restate health risks that adolescents are already aware or that do not mean anything to them. DARE also suggests that smoking is
a common habit difficult to resist when tempted. Fear manipulations lack preventative power because many of the health risks of smoking are long term-thus for a young teenager-what out of sight is out of mind. Fear manipulations are unrealistic simply because of the waiting period before the onset of disease.
Norms also place a heavy influence on adolescent smoking. Early teens spend most of their time with peers, rather than parents. Mom and Dad play more of a secondary role during the teen years. It makes sense that young teens are easily persuaded by their peer group simply because the greater part of the day is spent interacting with them. Parents do not become the active roll model until dinner time for a few hours until lights out. Research by Cialdini suggests that programs that inadvertently portray smoking as common are providing a pro-smoking descriptive norm. Descriptive norms are those norms that most people engage in; whereas injunctive norms are those behaviors that people say are right or wrong. If a youngster believes that smoking is common and normal, he or she may say If everyone else does it, so will I.
The question to be address is what can be done to motivate healthy behavior. Hypocrisy manipulations have been used in the past to decrease the frequency of unwanted behaviors. Hypocrisy manipulations promote behavior change because they motivate a person to think about their inconsistencies.
Our goal of this study is to modify the hypocrisy manipulation to incorporate the power of injunctive norms against smoking. By doing this we hope to reduce adolescents’ perception of the prevalence of smoking. In that perceptions of prevalence play such an important role in the decision to smoke, a focus on injunctive norms against smoking
should be influential in later decisions to smoke. We plan to use a hypocrisy manipulation but modify it by providing the adolescent participants with specific guidelines for their videotaped messages.
Participants were 186 eighth grade students from nine different health classes at Stafford Middle School. All students were required to obtain a signed parental consent form (see appendix A) in order participate in our study. As an incentive for maximum participation, each health class was informed that if 95% of the consent form were returned, the students would be entitle to a free pizza party. Ninety-two boys and 63 girls completed and returned their consent forms giving a total of 155 participants.
During each health class, participants with signed consent forms were administered a baseline survey (see appendix B) by the school psychologist, Steven Crain. The baseline measure asked questions such as age, sex, smoking behavior (I have never smoked a cigarette to I have smoked a pack or more in the last week), significant others who smoke (i.e. mother, father, brothers, sisters, etc.), perception of peers’ prevalence of and adults smoking( 0-100%), and two distracter items-bicycle helmet use and exercise habits.
During the next class meeting the experimenters described the project and assigned each class to one of three conditions: Prevalence, Social norm, or Informational. Students were instructed to a make a short video clip based on the condition assigned to
their class. Participants in the Social Norm condition were instructed to show that most people are nonsmokers, that smokers have disgusting habits, and that most people disapprove of smoking. Participants in the Prevalence condition were instructed to show that many people smoke, the strong peer pressure to smoke, and how students might respond to the pressure. Participants in the Informational condition were instructed discuss the health risks of smoking, to explain the likelihood of a short life span due to smoking, and to discuss the financial costs of smoking (see appendix C). The experimenter then showed an example video that corresponded to each class’ specific condition. However, the focus of the example video was underage drinking. Students were then broken into pre-assigned group of 5-7 and asked to work on their video clip scripts. Students used the next to class meetings for rehearsal. During the following class, students taped their videos and took a survey. This initial measure included a mindfulness manipulation in order to evoke hypocrisy. Questions pertaining to smoking experience, susceptibility, and prevalence were included in this measure. Lastly, some manipulation check items were included (see appendix D).
After completion of the initial measure, students were asked if they wanted to volunteer for a new anti-smoking project and how much time they would be willing to work (see appendix E).
Four months later, the experiments returned to the middle school and gave a follow-up survey. This measure asked questions about smoking habits since the projects took place, susceptibility, prevalence, and a follow-up manipulation check.