Percent of audience who experience a strong emotional response (to the communication)

"Emotion" is a physiological response that is subjectively experienced as strong feelings (such as fear, love, hate, anger, disgust, grief, joy, or surprise).  Two distinct aspects comprise emotion: the physical/bodily response and the subjectively experienced feeling. Communication experts recognize that the subjective emotional response influences the impact of a message on the receiver.

This indicator is calculated as:

(# who experience a strong emotional response / Total # in intended population) x 100

Self-report of audience members regarding their subjective response to a specific communication

National, regional, or local sample surveys of members of the intended audience

Communication experts recognize that the subjective emotional response of members of the audience toward specific communication greatly affects the potential impact of a given message. Historically, those designing radio and television spots have explicitly crafted their messages to elicit this type of marked emotional response.  Market researchers have attempted to measure this type of emotional response as part of routine communication pretesting.   However, to date, relatively few evaluators have experimented with measuring this dimension in field-based surveys.  In contrast to other BCC indicators that are widely used at the field level, this indicator is included for its potential use in evaluating communication programs.

Before evaluating emotional response to a message on a survey of the intended audience, one must first establish that the respondent has seen or heard the communication in question.  Evaluators often ask the question in two parts (spontaneous and aided recall):

  • What messages do you remember seeing on television in the past _ months (e.g., three months) on the subject of ___ (e.g., AIDS prevention)? (Note: the number of months should correspond to the time period that the spot was actually broadcast); and
  • (If the respondent does not mention the message in question, the interviewer asks:) Did you see the message on TV with the young father whose wife died of AIDS?

If the response is affirmative, the interviewer then asks a question to measure emotional reaction to that message.  Depending on the message in question, the interviewer can ask the respondent to agree or disagree with a specific statement about the message, such as:

  • I became very sad when I saw what happens to the orphans of parents who die from AIDS;
  • The man who said he would not wear condoms made me very angry;
  • The woman who asked her husband to wear condoms made me feel disgusted; and
  • I really liked the man who advocated practicing responsible sexual behavior.


Respondents can answer these four questions using a simple "agree/disagree," or using an expanded five-point Likert-type scale: strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), not sure (3), agree (4), strongly agree (5).

Emotion influences the impact of health communication in two ways.  First, certain emotions (especially fear) can act as a barrier to change.  For example, as long as women are too afraid to ask their partners to use condoms, they are not likely to change their behavior. Conversely, if couples' fear of getting pregnant becomes more salient (and somewhat greater), these couples will become more receptive to messages about family planning, as well as more motivated to change their behavior. Second, some level of emotional response may be necessary before people will seriously listen to messages and reexamine their own beliefs, counter arguments, and self-rationalizations for maintaining or for changing their behavior.  Third, the emotional content of the message may cause it to stand out from the multitude of other nondescript messages that compete for the viewer's attention.  As such, the emotional content of the message contributes to its effectiveness.

One limitation of this indicator relates to the measurement of emotion several days or weeks after the respondent sees or hears the message.  Certain emotion-charged events are very memorable and remain ingrained in one's mind for some time thereafter.  Others produce a fleeting emotional response that may be superseded by other emotions prompted by more recent events.  In short, this indicator is subject to some degree of recall bias. However, further testing of the indicator in the context of the evaluation of national communication programs will indicate its value as a pathway in analyzing communication effects.

communication, attitude, behavior