Some effects of the 'permissive society' in Britain on public reactions to commercial and social propaganda

Date of publication: September 1, 1972

Author: John M. Caffyn


Recent British social statistics and other survey data are examined for evidence of changes in social attitudes and social behaviour that would justify the description, a 'permissive society'. It is concluded that, with certain qualifications, the permissive society in Britain is a fact and not a myth. Two studies - one concerned with contraceptive propaganda, the other with effects of a high incidence of advertisements featuring nudes on the image of a popular magazine - demonstrate that propaganda material with an explicitly sexual content was widely acceptable by 1970. A range of studies are examined for evidence of the contribution, if any, of sexually provocative material to the effectiveness of commercial propaganda. Such effects can be both positive and negative, but in all the commercial studies reported discreet or conventionally stereotyped material was more effective than more blatantly sexual material. This finding applied, at least at the time of the studies, equally to young adults, whose basic social attitudes are far more permissive than their elders'. Possible distinctions between high-involvement and low involvement propaganda are discussed in this context. The absence is noted of information on the longer-term effects of continuous exposure to 'permissive' material. Three recent studies are examined for clues on this issue, which suggest that such effects are likely to occur and merit intensive research study.

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