Objectives: Recent research has shown that message congruency is beneficial to recall of pictorial health warning label (PWL) content after initial exposure. Despite less attention to the text warning, smokers exposed to congruent PWLs were more likely to recall the text and the message. This study aimed to replicate these findings and to examine whether congruency also affects recall after multiple exposures over time.
Methods: 320 daily smokers (39.7% female; cigarettes/day: M = 15.31, SD = 7.15) were randomized to one congruent or incongruent PWL and attended 4 laboratory sessions over 10 days. During each session, eye-movements were recorded while viewing the PWL and open-ended recall of label content was assessed after exposure.
Results: Smokers who were exposed to a congruent PWL were more likely to recall the text (p = .01) and the message (p = .02) and less likely to recall the image (p = .003) of the PWL after initial exposure. By day 4, incongruent PWLs were recalled equally well as congruent PWLs. Independent of condition, image recall was initially high and remained high while text and message recall was relatively low initially but increased over time. It was not until day 7 that about 80% of text and message recall was observed.
Conclusions: Even when exposed to the same PWL over time, smokers require multiple exposures to recall the text and the message of a PWL. More research on the effects of congruency in the natural environment, where smokers are exposed to multiple PWLs, is needed.