Self-affirmation reduces smokers' defensiveness to graphic on-pack cigarette warning labels

Peter R Harris, Kathryn Mayle, Lucy Mabbott, Lucy Napper
Health Psychology: Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association 2007, 26 (4): 437-46

OBJECTIVE: Little is known about how smokers respond to graphic images depicting the health consequences of smoking. The authors tested whether smokers respond defensively to such images and whether allowing them to self-affirm reduces their defensiveness.

DESIGN: Young smokers (N = 87) were randomly allocated to self-affirm or perform a control task prior to viewing 4 images intended for future use on cigarette packs in the European Union. Measures were taken immediately postexposure and after 1 week.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Participants rated each image for threat and personal relevance. Once all 4 images had been viewed, they completed measures of intentions, self-efficacy, and perceived behavioral control for reducing cigarette consumption, negative thoughts and feelings about smoking, personal vulnerability to 6 smoking-related diseases, desire to quit, and plans to quit. At the 1-week follow-up, measures of self-reported smoking and desire to reduce consumption were taken.

RESULTS: Relative to controls, self-affirmed participants rated the images as more threatening and personally relevant, and they reported more negative thoughts and feelings and higher levels of control, self-efficacy, and intentions. Risk level moderated the effect of self-affirmation on relevance and intentions: Self-affirmation increased ratings on both measures among those who smoked more. In addition, self-affirmation moderated the threat-intention relationship, which was weaker in the self-affirmed group. At follow-up, motivation to reduce consumption remained higher in self-affirmed participants, but there were no differences in reported consumption.

CONCLUSION: Self-affirmation can promote less defensive responding even to visual material about well-established health risks such as smoking.

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