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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 17;112(7):1977-82. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500247112. Epub 2015 Feb 2.

Self-affirmation alters the brain's response to health messages and subsequent behavior change.

Author information

1
Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104; falk@asc.upenn.edu taylors@psych.ucla.edu.
2
Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104;
3
Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106;
4
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095;
5
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095; falk@asc.upenn.edu taylors@psych.ucla.edu.
6
Center for Health Communications Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; and.
7
Center for Health Communications Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; and Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

Abstract

Health communications can be an effective way to increase positive health behaviors and decrease negative health behaviors; however, those at highest risk are often most defensive and least open to such messages. For example, increasing physical activity among sedentary individuals affects a wide range of important mental and physical health outcomes, but has proven a challenging task. Affirming core values (i.e., self-affirmation) before message exposure is a psychological technique that can increase the effectiveness of a wide range of interventions in health and other domains; however, the neural mechanisms of affirmation's effects have not been studied. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine neural processes associated with affirmation effects during exposure to potentially threatening health messages. We focused on an a priori defined region of interest (ROI) in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), a brain region selected for its association with self-related processing and positive valuation. Consistent with our hypotheses, those in the self-affirmation condition produced more activity in VMPFC during exposure to health messages and went on to increase their objectively measured activity levels more. These findings suggest that affirmation of core values may exert its effects by allowing at-risk individuals to see the self-relevance and value in otherwise-threatening messages.

KEYWORDS:

VMPFC; behavior change; fMRI; physical activity; self-affirmation

PMID:
25646442
PMCID:
PMC4343089
DOI:
10.1073/pnas.1500247112
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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