Pets and People Together: How should you respond?

Public Service Announcement Videos (PSAs) are everywhere. PSA’s are communication campaigns that are supposed to bring its viewers to action in a straightforward manner. But how do you get people to act?

I find that the best way to talk about this is in the context on an example. Please watch the below PSA – then we can chat more on the topic!

“Muse :30 | Pets and People Together” Ad Council Video

Well, what did you think? Are you called to take action? Did you feel an emotional response?

What is the PSA Attempting to do?

I believe that you can tell a good PSA from how well it educates its viewers, elicits an emotional response, and allows the viewer the opportunity to take action.

The above video tells a story, tugs at your heart stings and calls its viewers to take action all in thirty seconds. If you’ve read James Price Dillard and Eugenia Peck’s “Affect and Persuasion: Emotional Responses to Public Service Announcements” then you know that how people respond emotionally determines how successful they deem the video.

“PSAs deal with social problems and unpleasant issues” and “many attempt to […] evoke an emotional response in the audience.”

Dillard and Peck (2000)

How do Emotions Fit in With This?

According to Dillard and Peck, “emotional response to the PSAs played an important role in […] perceived effectiveness”. In their study, they knew that unless emotion was evoked, the people would rate the PSA as ineffective in its overall goal. In our example above, did the PSA evoke emotion in you?

Though the story, you could see the bond between the woman and her cat. I felt their love and friendship bringing me positive, happy emotions. I was invested! When we find our the poor kitty is sick, I’m pulled from one extreme to another feeling the woman’s sadness and fear. Luckily the community members step up and the cat receives the help it needs. We’re shown “Be a helper” along with “Donate to pet care. Find a lost pet. Foster a pet.”. I feel relief and know exactly what I should be doing to help!

Why do we Feel Moved to Help?

Dillard and Peck say “Emotions […] influence judgments, which then influence attitude toward the issue”. Lets review my emotions through these thirty seconds. I felt friendship, love, joy, fear, sadness, empathy, and lastly relief.

I agree with Dillard and Peck when they stated, “feelings are used to inform decision making” and that “some emotions seem to enhance message acceptance, whereas others inhibit it”. Were the emotions I listed above on their list of emotions that enhance message acceptance? How do we know which emotion made me want to act after watching that PSA?

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by StymShinji

What do Different Emotions Evoke?

Here’s exactly what Dillard and Peck discover through their study:

  • “Felling good informs the individual that the current situation is safe”.
  • “Feeling bad signals that something is amiss and that the individual would do well to determine the nature of the problem”.
  • “Negative emotions signal problems and positive emotions signal safety”.
  • “Guilt emerged” through the study and “guilt corresponded with greater acceptance of the message”.
  • “Happiness was associated with increased message acceptance” – Happiness promotes “passivity rather than action” though.
  • “Fear manifested a significant positive association with perceived message effectiveness” and “fear is easily aroused”.

To me, these findings are very thought provoking. The more we learn about what causes people to act, the more public service announcements can customize their message to optimize the number of people who act.

I would say, continuing with our pet PSA example, that the happiness I felt through watching their bond and through relief increased the messages acceptance. The fear I felt when we saw the pet needed help made the message more effective. Lastly, the overall good feeling made this PSA feel safe. I think what Dillard and Peck found with their study perfectly explains why I accepted the message and felt the need to act at the end.

by lmproulx “Smiley Face”

How are Emotions Different for Mood?

Dillard and Peck emphasize that there are “important differences in the nature of mood and emotion”. How?

Well, “Mood is often viewed as a diffuse background affect of uncertain cause” and “Emotions are thought to be specific, focused and foregrounded in consciousness”. So your mood can sometime come on without you even being aware of why. Emotions are more specific, we can locate where they came from and why.

In a good mood? We can make guesses why but most of the time it just happens. Feeling sadness? You know why. You watched a sad movie, you found out your dog is sick, you spilled your drink onto your new rug. This is why emotions are easier to look at, they’re specific. When the participants in the study came in, they were asked to leave their moods out of it and only focus on the emotions that arouse from the PSA itself.

This is an important distinction!

Lets Tie it All Together!

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by StymShinji

So you’ve watched the PSA. It made you feel a certain way and because of that you will either find that public service announcement to be effective or ineffective in causing you to act.

Guilt = Increased Message Acceptance

Happiness = Increased Message Acceptance but people felt passive after watching rather than taking action on the issue.

Fear = Increased Message Effectiveness and can persuade people into acting

You can like a PSA but that doesn’t mean you find it effective (which is why we’ve focused so much on its acceptance and effectiveness rather than how much the researchers ‘liked’ it)

So overall, perhaps the best public service announcements are the ones that seem to evoke happiness, guilt and fear. You can like a Public Service Announcement but that doesn’t mean you think its effective in calling its viewers to action. There are still studies that need to be done to look further into these but for now … what do you think?

Do you think that specific emotions can make you more likely to act on something?


Dillard, J. P., & Peck, E. (n.d.). Affect and Persuasion: Emotional Responses to Public Service Announcements. In SAGE Social Science Collections (pp. 461–495). essay.

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