Using Entertainment TV to Change Social Behaviors: How MTV Shuga is Fighting HIV

A field experiment, funded by Gates Foundation and World Bank, tested how effective MTV Shuga --an entertainment education TV Series is in changing behaviors related to HIV/AIDS. The experiment was done on 5,000 young men and women living in 80 urban areas in South West Nigeria.


Eight months after the experiment, the researchers found that most young people in these locations who frequently watched MTV Shuga:

1. Had more knowledge about the source of HIV/AIDS transmission and its treatment,

2. Got tested for HIV/AIDS (both the 1st test and 2nd test 3 months after),

3. Reduced risky sexual behaviors –such as having multiple sexual partners, and

4. Had less Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) among women.


MTV Shuga had greater impact on people who watched the show with their friends or partner -- because they were able to casaully talk about it after watching, thereby reinforcing the message.


This suggests that entertainment TV, film or radio show has a huge role to play in changing destructive social behaviors in our society. If not for anything, for the fact that such platforms have wide viewership – many people’s behaviors can be changed at once. For this to happen, media producers need to finely combine useful information with entertaining content to get viewers immersed into the entertaining narrative while learning a thing or two – this is known as entertaining education or “edutainment”.


For edutainment to successfully change viewers' behaviors and create a desired social change, it needs to be done right:


1. The educative information in the show should not overpower the entertaining component: If this happens, most viewers will resist the educative content as a top-down advice. The entertaining component of the film, radio, or TV show must be appealing to targeted viewers that they end up paying attention to the educative message –this is called the “individual effect”.


2. The show should portray an alternative lifestyle that others have taken as a norm and encourage casual post-viewing discussions: People are naturally prone to conform to what others do or think. Hence, the more viewers believe others are watching the show, talking about it or living the life, the more the edutainment message would be well-received as an alternative lifestyle leading to a shift in social norm – this is the “social effect”.


3. The narrative of the show must be absorbing and not too fictional (i.e. interesting and relatable) —because people are less likely to trust the quality of the information in fictional stories. Also, the more immersing the show, the more people would watch and keep watching. That's how you create the change!

Photo Credit: Compass


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Find out more about this research experiment and the results in NBER.

Author Credit: Precious C. Akanonu (Editorial)


#SocialNorms #BehavioralChange #Edutainment #MTV #Shuga #HIV #AIDS

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