Self-Affirmation Reduces Biased Processing of Health-Risk Information

Abstract

An experiment tested whether a positive experience (the endorsement and recall of one's past acts of kindness) would reduce biased processing of self-relevant health-risk information. Women college students (N = 66) who reported high or low levels of daily caffeine use were exposed to both risk-confirming and risk-disconfirming information about the link between caffeine consumption and fibrocystic breast disease (FBD). Participants were randomly assigned to complete an affirmation of their kindness via questionnaire or to a no-affirmation condition. Results indicated that the affirmation manipulation made frequent caffeine drinkers more open, less biased processors of risk-related information. Relative to frequent caffeine drinkers who did not affirm their kindness, frequent caffeine drinkers in the affirmation condition oriented more quickly to the risk-confirming information, rated the risk-confirming information as more convincing than the risk-disconfirming information, and recalled less risk-disconfirming information at a 1-week follow-up. They also reported greater perceived personal control over reducing their level of caffeine consumption. Although frequent caffeine drinkers in the affirmation condition initially reported lower intentions to reduce their caffeine consumption, there was no evidence that they were less likely to decrease their caffeine consumption at the follow-up. The possibility that positive beliefs and experiences function as self-regulatory resources among people confronting threats to health and well-being is discussed.

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Reed, M.B., Aspinwall, L.G. Self-Affirmation Reduces Biased Processing of Health-Risk Information. Motivation and Emotion 22, 99–132 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021463221281

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Keywords

  • Caffeine
  • College Student
  • Social Psychology
  • Positive Experience
  • Personal Control