Anti-smoking public service announcements (PSAs) often use persuasive arguments to attempt to influence attitudes about smoking. The persuasiveness of a PSA has previously been associated with factors that influence the cognitive processing of its message. Genetic factors that influence cognitive processing might thus affect individuals' responses to the persuasive arguments presented in PSAs. In the current study, we examined polymorphisms in the genes encoding brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF Val66Met) and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT Val158Met), which affect cognitive processing in the prefrontal cortex, to identify genetic factors associated with self-reported outcomes of message processing, perceived effectiveness, and quitting intentions among smokers viewing PSAs. 120 smokers viewed sets of 4 PSAs which varied with respect to features of argument strength and message sensation value. We observed significant associations of BDNF genotype with central processing, narrative processing, perceived effectiveness of the anti-smoking PSAs, and participant quitting intentions; the BDNF Met allele was associated with lower scores on all these measures. Central processing acted as a mediator of the association of genotype with quitting intentions and perceived effectiveness. There was a significant interaction of COMT genotype by argument strength in the model of narrative processing, such that individuals homozygous for the COMT Val allele reported higher narrative processing in the high argument strength condition, but not in the low argument strength condition. To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify genetic factors associated with cognitive processing of anti-smoking public service announcements.
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