Objective: Health promotion often faces the problem that populations with high behavioral risk profiles respond defensively to health promotion messages by negating risk or reactant behavior. Self-affirmation theory proposes that defensive reactions are an attempt of the self-system to maintain integrity. In this article, we examine whether a self-affirmation manipulation can mitigate defensive responses to personalized visual risk feedback in the skin cancer prevention context (ultraviolet [UV] photography), and whether the effects pertain to individuals with high behavioral risk status (high personal relevance of tanning).
Method: We conducted a full-factorial randomized controlled trial (N = 292; age 11-71) following a 2 * 2 design (UV photo yes/no, self-affirmation yes/no). Follow-up period was 2 weeks. Subsequent tanning behavior, sun avoidance intentions, and risk perception.
Results: A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) revealed a three-way interaction between risk feedback, the self-affirmation manipulation, and risk status for the three outcome measures. Follow-up analyses of variance (ANOVAs) indicated that high-risk individuals receiving only the risk feedback intervention reacted defensively and reported higher exposure. A self-affirmation manipulation mitigates this reactance effect both on the level of cognitions and behavior.
Conclusion: Self-affirmation has influential implications not only for Social Psychology but also for health prevention measures. The findings support the effectiveness of self-affirmation in reducing reactant and defensive reactions to personalized visual risk feedback. Interactions with health risk status indicate that self-affirmation might increase the effectiveness of health promotion messages in high-risk populations.
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