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Br J Health Psychol. 2015 May;20(2):228-42. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12090. Epub 2014 Jan 29.

Open-mindedness can decrease persuasion amongst adolescents: the role of self-affirmation.

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School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, UK.



Self-affirmation (e.g., by reflecting on important personal values) has been found to promote more open-minded appraisal of threatening health messages in at-risk adults. However, it is unclear how self-affirmation affects adolescents and whether it has differential effects on the impact of these messages amongst those at relatively lower and higher risk. The current study explored moderation by risk.


Participants were randomly assigned to either a self-affirmation or a control condition before receiving a health message concerning physical activity.


Older adolescents (N = 125) completed a self-affirmation or control writing task before reading about the health consequences of not meeting recommendations to be physically active for at least 60 min daily. Most of the sample did not achieve these levels of activity (98%, N = 123). Consequently, the message informed these participants that - unless they changed their behaviour - they would be at higher risk of heart disease. Participants completed measures of responses to the message and behaviour-specific cognitions (e.g., self-efficacy) for meeting the recommendations.


For relatively inactive participants, self-affirmation was associated with increased persuasion. However, for those who were moderately active (but not meeting recommendations), those in the self-affirmation condition were less persuaded by the message.


Whilst self-affirmation can increase message acceptance, there are circumstances when the open-mindedness it induces may decrease persuasion. The evidence provided in this study suggests that caution may be needed when recommendations are challenging and it could be considered reasonable to be sceptical about the need to change behaviour. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Self-affirmation can facilitate open-mindedness and sensitivity to whether health messages suggest high or low risk on the basis of current behaviour. What does this study add? Demonstrates that self-affirmation effects can be moderated by the extent of failure to meet recommendations. Shows that self-affirmation can be associated with less persuasion when challenging health guidelines are used.


defensiveness; health-risk information; physical activity; self-affirmation

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