The relationship between children's knowledge of persuasive intent and persuasion: The case of televised food marketing

Ariel Chernin, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The marketing of foods high in sugar and fat is viewed as a potential cause of childhood obesity. Researchers and public policy makers have speculated that younger children are especially vulnerable to food advertising because they lack knowledge of persuasive intent; that is, they don't understand that commercials try to convince people to buy products. Using a sample of 133 children between the ages of five and eleven years old, this dissertation tested the two claims that underlie this argument: (1) children younger than eight years old lack knowledge of persuasive intent, and (2) knowledge of persuasive intent moderates the persuasion process in children. Children's knowledge of persuasive intent was assessed with a new measure that provided cues to help children retrieve and express stored knowledge. In contrast to early research on children's understanding of advertising, the present results indicated that a majority of children between the ages of five and eleven years old possessed knowledge of persuasive intent. The moderating effect of knowledge of persuasive intent was tested observationally, by examining the interaction between children's preexisting knowledge of persuasive intent and exposure to food commercials on product preference, and experimentally, by increasing knowledge of persuasive intent prior to ad exposure. The results revealed that children's preexisting knowledge of persuasive intent did not moderate the influence of ad exposure on product preference. Thus, children who possessed knowledge of persuasive intent were just as persuaded by food commercials as children who lacked this knowledge. Somewhat surprisingly, exposure to a brief video that explained the purpose of advertising tended to increase children's preferences for the advertised products. The findings of this dissertation suggest that all children are vulnerable to food marketing and that, unfortunately, media literacy education may be ineffective in increasing children's resistance to advertisers' persuasive appeals. Legal restrictions on advertising to children would provide greater protection; however, corporate self-regulation may be a more viable strategy to pursue.

Subject Area

Mass media

Recommended Citation

Chernin, Ariel, "The relationship between children's knowledge of persuasive intent and persuasion: The case of televised food marketing" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3292015.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3292015

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