Self-Affirmation and Defensiveness to Health Messages for the Self vs a Close Other

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Principal investigators:

Rebecca Ferrer

National Cancer Institute


William M. P. Klein

National Cancer Institute


Sample size: 419

Field period: 01/29/2014-03/17/2015

H1: Consistent with previous research, self-affirmation will reduce defensiveness and
increase the persuasiveness of the personally threatening message, compared to control. Thus, self-affirmed participants reading the personally threatening message should report higher deliberative and affective risk perception profiles, greater message endorsement, higher message recall, and greater intentions to talk to a doctor and engage in a hypothetical screening.
H2: Among the non-affirmed participants, those reading a threatening message related to a close other should be less defensive and more persuaded than those reading a personally threatening message. Among non-affirmed participants who read the other-threatening message (compared to those who read the personally threatening message), deliberative and affective risk perception measures, message endorsement, message recall, and intentions to encourage the close other to talk to a doctor and engage in a hypothetical screening should be higher.

Experimental Manipulations
Self-affirmation vs. no affirmation
Threatening message for close other vs. for self

Risk perceptions, interest in information, interest in testing, weight loss intentions

Summary of Results
We uncovered a relatively strong self-other difference for experiential and affective risk perceptions, interest in more information, and interest in testing, such that people are more concerned about their partner than they are about themselves. At the same time, they show more intentions to lose weight themselves than to encourage their partner to lose weight. These effects do not interact with self-affirmation in the overall sample. Among females, self-affirmation makes them more likely to believe the website info, have interest in more information, and perceive the website information to be more relevant, irrespective of whether the information is about them or their partner (no interaction with target – self or other).