Interschool competition as a reinforcer of persuasive communications directed at changing dental hygiene attitudes and behavior



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As part of an ostensible dental health education program, seventh grade science students of each of two junior high schools were exposed to high fear arousal, moderate fear arousal, positive affect arousal, and recommendations only filmed persuasive communications. In addition, one school was engaged in competition with the other school for a 'most improved dental hygiene' award, and received reinforcing feedback on performance. Criterion measures of information retention, anxiety, intention to behave, self-report of behavior, program evaluation, and/or a chemical indicator of actual toothbrushing behavior were administered precommunication, immediately postcommunication, and one- and six-weeks postcommunication. Hypotheses were formulated to test certain relationships between these independent and dependent variables. Assuming a persuasive or a reinforcement effect for interschool competition, the central hypothesis predicted that the communication conditions of the competition school would exhibit more positive attitudes and behavior than corresponding conditions of the noncompetition school. In accordance with the recommendations of the present study which stressed quality oral hygiene, additional hypotheses predicted that the positive appeal conditions would intend and report greater adoption of certain of these recommendations than the fear arousal conditions, while the fear arousal conditions would be more likely to intend and report adoption of the generally accepted oral hygiene recommendations--frequent cleaning of the teeth. Methodological problems encountered in the field may challenge the validity of many of the present findings, possibly accounting for the lack of an extension of the persuasive communication effects demonstrated by Evans et_ al. (1970), as well as the paucity of results supportive of the predicted interschool competition effect. Notwithstanding these methodological difficulties, however, the results did suggest that fear arousal produced the greatest amount of reported anxiety, which in turn appeared to reduce comprehension of the recommendations. Thus, fear arousal tended to result in greater intentions to behave in terms of frequent dental hygiene (not recommended), while the positive appeal tended to result in greater intended and reported behavior in terms of spending considerable time in dental hygiene (recommended behavior).



Teeth--Care and hygiene, Dental health education