Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

How Adolescents' Perceived Media Influence on Peers Affects Smoking Decisions

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

How Adolescents' Perceived Media Influence on Peers Affects Smoking Decisions

Article excerpt

Guided by the influence of presumed influence model, this study focuses on the direct and mediating roles of adolescent perceived media influence on peers--i.e., perceptions about how much peers are influenced by antismoking messages--in predicting adolescent smoking attitudes and behavior. Analysis of two-wave panel data indicates that adolescents' perceived media influence on peers at Time 2 directly influenced their smoking attitudes and behavior at Time 2 and appeared to serve as a causal bridge for the variable at Time 1. The exposure to antismoking campaigns seems to achieve the desired outcome indirectly through perceived media influence on peers.

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For decades, antismoking efforts at both state and national levels have produced numerous media campaigns that target adolescents. Evidence suggests that campaigns such as the American Legacy Foundation's "truth" have contributed to a reduction in the adolescent smoking rate (Farrelly et al. 2005). That rate, however, remains relatively high at around 20%. According to the Healthy People 2010 initiative of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the federal government's goal was to have reduced it to 16% by the year 2010. Although such an ambitious goal has not been achieved, health campaigners and intervention researchers continue to investigate several strategies to make it more attainable. In the process, they have increasingly emphasized the importance of understanding the mechanisms through which antismoking campaigns work (e.g., Baranowski, Anderson, and Carmack 1998; Clayton, Scutchfield, and Wyatt 2000; MacKinnon et al. 2001).

To advance this understanding, we focus on peer perceptions that mediate adolescents' self-reported exposure to antismoking messages and their smoking attitudes and behavior. When individuals form impressions of other people and behave according to their subjective social perceptions, they often do not rely on their own actual, direct observations and experiences of others. Instead, they use information that is simply "available" (Ross and Fletcher 1985). Adolescents are known to be particularly susceptible to peer perceptions because they are highly concerned about the impressions they make on others (Rosenberg 1986). In fact, studies on adolescent behavior have found that perceptions often determine peer influence more than peer behavior itself does (Bauman and Fisher 1986).

This study concentrates on the mediation that results from peer perceptions. To do so, it uses the influence of presumed influence (IPI) model, which incorporates the perceptions of others in the context of media influence. The IPI model's core postulate is that "people perceive some influence of a communication on others (presumed influence) and, as a result, change their own attitudes or behaviors (influence of presumed influence)" (Gunther and Storey 2003, p. 199). This study builds on that model to examine the roles of perceived media influence on peers. Specifically, it explores how adolescent perceptions of peer responses to antismoking media messages mediate their self-reported exposure to antismoking messages and their attitudes and behaviors.

Past studies have tested and confirmed the IPI model in contexts such as maternal health care delivery (Gunther and Story 2003), adolescent smoking (Gunther et al. 2006; Paek and Gunther 2007) and adolescent sexual behavior (Chia 2006). But those studies all relied on cross-sectional data and therefore could not provide sufficiently convincing causal claims. In contrast, through analyzing two-wave panel survey data, the current study develops a causal model that more rigorously incorporates peer perception, or the role of perceived media influence on peers. It raises two research questions. First, to what extent does peer perception mediate between self-reported exposure to antismoking messages and smoking attitudes and behavior? Second, how robust are the direct and mediating roles of peer perceptions over time? …

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