Experimentally Manipulated Self-Affirmation Promotes Reduced Alcohol Consumption in Response to Narrative Information

Abstract

Background

Health-risk information is increasingly being conveyed through accounts of personal experiences or narrative information. However, whether self-affirmation can enhance the ability of such messages to promote behavior change has yet to be established.

Purpose

This study aims to test whether self-affirmation (a) promotes behavior change following exposure to narrative information about the risks of excessive alcohol consumption and (b) boosts message acceptance by increasing narrative engagement.

Methods

In an experimental design, female drinkers (N = 142) reported their baseline alcohol consumption and were randomly allocated to condition (Self-Affirmation, Control). All participants next watched an extract of a genuine narrative piece in which the central character discussed her liver disease and its link with her previous alcohol consumption. Then, participants completed measures assessing engagement with the narrative and message acceptance. The primary outcome was alcohol consumption, assessed at 7-day follow-up.

Results

Self-affirmed participants reported consuming significantly less alcohol at follow-up compared to baseline (mean 7-day decrease = 5.43 units); there was no change in alcohol consumption for the control group. Immediately post-manipulation, self-affirmed participants (vs. control) showed more message acceptance and reported greater engagement with the information. The impact of self-affirmation on message acceptance was mediated by narrative engagement.

Conclusions

Self-affirmation can promote behavior change following exposure to health information, even when presented in narrative form.

Clinical Trial Registration

The trial is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT02681900, (https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT02681900).

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/J500173/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kerry J. Fox PhD.

Ethics declarations

Authors’ Statement of Conflict of Interest and Adherence to Ethical Standards

K.J.F., P.R.H., and D.C.J. declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

This study involved human participants; all research procedures, including the informed consent process, were conducted in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee (institutional and national) and the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Fox, K.J., Harris, P.R. & Jessop, D.C. Experimentally Manipulated Self-Affirmation Promotes Reduced Alcohol Consumption in Response to Narrative Information. ann. behav. med. 51, 931–935 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-017-9912-2

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Keywords

  • Self-affirmation
  • Narrative information
  • Defensive processing
  • Alcohol
  • Health-risk information