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The ethics of distress: Toward a framework for determining the ethical acceptability of distressing health promotion advertising

Whiting, Demian; Brown, Stephen L.

Authors

Stephen L. Brown



Abstract

© 2014 International Union of Psychological Science. Distressing health promotion advertising involves the elicitation of negative emotion to increase the likelihood that health messages will stimulate audience members to adopt healthier behaviors. Irrespective of its effectiveness, distressing advertising risks harming audience members who do not consent to the intervention and are unable to withdraw from it. Further, the use of these approaches may increase the potential for unfairness or stigmatization toward those targeted, or be considered unacceptable by some sections of the public. We acknowledge and discuss these concerns, but, using the public health ethics literature as a guide, argue that distressing advertising can be ethically defensible if conditions of effectiveness, proportionality necessity, least infringement, and public accountability are satisfied. We do not take a broad view as to whether distressing advertising is ethical or unethical, because we see the evidence for both the effectiveness of distressing approaches and their potential to generate iatrogenic effects to be inconclusive. However, we believe it possible to use the current evidence base to make informed estimates of the likely consequences of specific message presentations. Messages can be pre-tested and monitored to identify and deal with potential problems. We discuss how advertisers can approach the problems of deciding on the appropriate intensity of ethical review, and evaluating prospective distressing advertising campaigns against the conditions outlined.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2014-04
Journal International journal of psychology
Print ISSN 0020-7594
Electronic ISSN 1464-066X
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 49
Issue 2
Pages 89-97
Institution Citation Whiting, D., & Brown, S. L. (2014). The ethics of distress: Toward a framework for determining the ethical acceptability of distressing health promotion advertising. International Journal of Psychology, 49(2), 89-97. doi:10.1002/ijop.12002
DOI https://doi.org/10.1002/ijop.12002
Keywords Advertising; Health promotion; Ethics; Distress; Fear
Publisher URL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijop.12002/abstract
Copyright Statement ©2016 University of Hull
Additional Information This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Brown, S. L. and Whiting, D. (2014), The ethics of distress: Toward a framework for determining the ethical acceptability of distressing health promotion advertising. International Journal of Psych, 49: 89–97. doi: 10.1002/ijop.12002 which has been published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wi...02/ijop.12002/abstract. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

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