FACULTY RESEARCH: Can Advertising Encourage Bystander Intervention in Response to Domestic Violence?

Temerlin Advertising Institute faculty are studying ways to encourage bystander action when they encounter victims of domestic violence. According to the CDC, “About 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.”

According to the research, bystander intervention is one way to help minimize occurrences of domestic violence. However, bystanders tend to be apathetic toward the victims they happen to encounter or observe.

In the research published in the Journal of Advertising, Dr. Carrie La Ferle and Dr. Sidharth Muralidharan examined the role of guilt and shame on attitude toward the ad and reporting intention of bystanders in India. While the effectiveness of negative emotions has been thoroughly researched in the West, conceptualizing guilt and shame from an Eastern perspective and using fluency in processing theory revealed that ads featuring emotional appeals strengthened reporting intention more than control ads did.

Professor Muralidharan explained that this action occurs through self-construals which impact the ways that the different emotions elicited are processed. Self-construal refers to the grounds of self-definition, and the extent to which the self is defined independently of others or interdependently with others and is thought to vary between Westerners and East Asians.

With respect to the findings, Dr. Muralidharan thought that it was interesting that shame was more effective than ads with guilt and the control. However, what was more intriguing was that ads with negative emotions (and lack of) were equally effective among those with an independent self-construal. Basically, such ad appeals were not as important as the duty to help a victim in need. A probable answer lies in research that touches on the characteristics of the independent self-construal (being assertive, autonomous, and possessing a stronger sense of equality), which could explain these gaps in future studies.

According to Dr. La Ferle, “We hope that this research will allow for more impactful public service announcements in India and further prosocial causes by encouraging people to take action in response to perceived needs.” This is one way SMU Advertising research is helping to create better advertising which leads to a better world.

For more information see:

Dr. Carrie La Ferle, Dr. Sid Muralidharan & Dr. Anna Kim “Using Guilt and Shame Appeals from an Eastern Perspective to Promote Bystander Intervention: A Study of Mitigating Domestic Violence in IndiaJournal of Advertising, 2019.

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