Leap Laboratory for Effective Anti-poverty Policies

Experimental Evaluation of MTV Shuga: Changing Social Norms and Behaviors with Entertainment

By Abhijit Banerjee, Eliana La Ferrara, Victor Orozco

 

Summary and Key Findings

 

With an estimated population of 160 million, Nigeria is second to South Africa in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, representing 3.2 million or 9 percent of the global burden of the disease (UNAIDS 2014).  Can the shows we see on TV change how we think and act? Could including messages related to health in popular entertainment be an avenue for promoting positive behavior change? The researchers set out to shed light on this question by evaluating the third season of the television series MTV Shuga, a production aimed at African youth that fuses sexual-health messaging with gripping storylines. The study is a cluster randomized trial conducted in 80 locations in urban and peri-urban areas, where young people aged 18 to 25 were visited at home and invited to see a movie. In treatment locations, individuals were shown the MTV Shuga in two screenings of four 20-minutes episodes each.  Control communities were shown a placebo movie lacking messages of sexual risky behavior and having a similar length. Baseline, interim surveys and 6-months follow-up surveys were administered to both groups.

 

Preliminary results provide experimental evidence that the show improved knowledge and attitudes of viewers, had a positive influence on the viewers’ attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS and sugar daddies and resulted in behavior change on the primary goals of HIV testing and reducing risky sexual behaviors. One dimension in which the show did not lead to behavior change is condom usage. The study provides mixed evidence on the impact of the show on violence against women. Initial results of MTV Shuga offer an encouraging message on the potential to use entertainment-education as a development tool. Given the popularity of soap operas among poorer and less educated households, entertainment education could be used to positively alter attitudes and behaviors of millions of individuals at low marginal costs, not only around stigmatized issues such as HIV/AIDS and gender based violence, but also around other development issues.

 

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