*This abstract is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation proposal and its data collection will be made during the summer, 2015.
Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis:Due to the longer life expectancy rates, more people than ever before are concerned about their health conditions. However, when it comes to health related issues, people often process the health related information more defensively, such as degrading sources, showing psychological reactance especially when they are more personally relevant to the behavior. Steel (1988)’s Self-affirmation theory explains human’s innate tendency that individuals are inclined to maintain their positive self-image, and those elements are interpreted as self-esteem. The theory also proposes this as the motive satisfied when people respond in a biased or defensible manner to material they find threatening. Specifically, affirming self can boost individual’s self-esteem, which is considered to be an important determinant in human behavior, and self-esteem can affect self-efficacy. This current study explores affirming self into the health messages by applying self-affirmation theory to see whether recipients would be less defensive or more acceptable toward the messages. More specifically, they whether increase their perceived capabilities to change their current behavior (self-efficacy) and actual behavior intention to change. During the individual’s thought processing, personal relevance can be a mediating variable to affect the results. Moreover, two different kinds of behavior, such as promoting versus deterring behaviors, could result in different responses.
Methods:This study is designed to test the effects of self-affirmation in the context of two types of behaviors (promoting or cessation) among young adults. To be more specific, whether self-affirmed group will show less defensive message processing (less message derogation, more acceptance) and more positive responses in terms of behavior-specific cognition (higher perceived risk, response-efficacy, self-efficacy, behavior intent: expectations for meeting the recommendations). A 2 (Self-affirmation vs. Non-affirmation) X 2 (promoting vs. deterring) X 3 (message replication) experimental design is used to investigate hypotheses and research questions. This study employed a convenience sample at Southern university. Undergraduates in large lecture classes, online courses, and medium size classes will be recruited in exchange for extra credit or required research credit. Participants who are interested in this study will come to a computer lab to watch PSA (Public Service Announcement) messages and respond to questions. Six health-related behaviors (safe sex, fruit and vegetable intake, drinking water, text while driving, binge drinking, or excessive social media use) which many young people engage in are used for PSA messages for this study. Those PSA messages are made under same structure and the same graphic with approximately the same number of words.
Implications for research and/or practice:The findings of this study may advance knowledge in health psychology leading to changes in understanding health behavior changes among young adults. Contribution to theory may include modifying how researchers view changes in health-related self-efficacy perceptions of young adults. The findings of this study will point towards dynamics in what strategies can affect self-efficacy and health behavior related change.