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Health Commun. 2005;17(2):133-47.

Effects of coping information and value affirmation on responses to a perceived health threat.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0348, USA.


In this study, we examined the effects of coping information and self-affirmation on an individual's response to threatening health information. A total of 202 women college students read an essay containing threatening information about breast cancer. The essay described their population as being at risk for breast cancer and included both pictures of cancerous breasts and vivid descriptions of chemotherapy treatments. Participants were randomized into either the low-affirmation condition or the high-affirmation condition when they first arrived. In addition, half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive coping information that described breast self-examinations as an effective method of detecting breast cancer and focused on the importance of early detection. Participants who received coping information scored lower on maladaptive behaviors (avoidance, hopelessness, religiosity), suggesting that coping information plays a role in decreasing maladaptive behaviors. No significant differences were found between the low-affirmation and high-affirmation conditions. Supplemental analyses indicated that vicarious exposure to breast cancer (having a friend, relative, or mother diagnosed with breast cancer) affected how individuals interpret threatening health information. Participants with previous exposure scored higher on the adaptive coping modes (behavioral intentions, rational problem solving) and 1 maladaptive coping mode (religiosity) when compared to individuals without previous exposure. In addition, participants in the high-affirmation condition with previous exposure scored higher on avoidance and hopelessness than those without previous exposure. The results suggest that coping information and previous exposure are factors that need to be considered when presenting threatening health information.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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