Self-affirmation may break down resistance to medical screening

December 21, 2011

People resist medical screening, or don't call back for the results, because they don't want to know they're sick or at risk for a disease. But many illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, have a far a better prognosis if they're caught early. How can health care providers break down that resistance?

Have people think about what they value most, finds a new study by University of Florida psychologists Jennifer L. Howell and James A. Shepperd. "If you can get people to refocus their attention from a threat to their overall sense of wellbeing, they are less likely to avoid threatening information," says Howell. Do that, and people are more likely to face a medical screening even if it means undertaking onerous treatment and even if the disease is uncontrollable. The findings will appear in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers undertook three studies, each with about 100 students of both sexes. In all three studies, they asked the participants to think of a trait they valued; they chose traits such as honesty, compassion, and friendliness. Participants then wrote either about how they demonstrated the trait (expressing self-affirmation) or a friend (not affirming themselves) demonstrated the trait.

Next participants watched a video about a (fictional) disorder called thioamine acetlyase (TAA) deficiency that ostensibly impairs the body's ability to process nutrients and can lead to severe medical complications. They then completed an online risk calculator for the disease and decided either to receive their risk feedback or not.

In the first study, fewer participants who wrote self-affirming essays avoided learning their risk than did participants who wrote non-affirming essays. In studies 2 and 3 researchers investigated the effects of affirmation on two conditions known to increase avoidance of risk feedback. In the second study, participants learned that testing at high risk for TAA deficiency would either require an easy or onerous follow-up examination process. Participants who were not affirmed avoided learning their risk more when they thought it might necessitate an onerous, as compared to an easy, follow up. However, affirmed participants showed little avoidance regardless of the difficulty of follow up. In the third study, participants learned either that TAA could be managed with a pill; or that there was no effective treatment. Again, the non-affirmed group avoided learning their risk almost twice as often when hearing they had no control over the illness. By contrast, affirmed participants were unlikely to avoid the news, regardless of the possibility of treatment.

The researchers acknowledge it's sometimes rational to choose not to know about an incurable disease you might (or might not) get. "But when it is important to prepare for negative events--getting your affairs in order, finding the coping resources you'll need," Howell suggests, going through with that screening might wise.
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact: Jennifer L. Howell at Jenny.Howell@ufl.edu.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Reducing Information Avoidance Through Affirmation" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Disease Articles from Brightsurf:

CLCN6 identified as disease gene for a severe form of lysosomal neurodegenerative disease
A mutation in the CLCN6 gene is associated with a novel, particularly severe neurodegenerative disorder.

Cellular pathway of genetic heart disease similar to neurodegenerative disease
Research on a genetic heart disease has uncovered a new and unexpected mechanism for heart failure.

Mechanism linking gum disease to heart disease, other inflammatory conditions discovered
The link between periodontal (gum) disease and other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease and diabetes has long been established, but the mechanism behind that association has, until now, remained a mystery.

Potential link for Alzheimer's disease and common brain disease that mimics its symptoms
A new study by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital uncovered a group of closely related genes that may capture molecular links between Alzheimer's disease and Limbic-predominant Age-related TDP-43 Encephalopathy, or LATE, a recently recognized common brain disorder that can mimic Alzheimer's symptoms.

Antioxidant agent may prevent chronic kidney disease and Parkinson's disease
Researchers from Osaka University developed a novel dietary silicon-based antioxidant agent with renoprotective and neuroprotective effects.

Tools used to study human disease reveal coral disease risk factors
In a study published in Scientific Reports, a team of international researchers led by University of Hawai'i (UH) at Mānoa postdoctoral fellow Jamie Caldwell used a statistical technique typically employed in human epidemiology to determine the ecological risk factors affecting the prevalence of two coral diseases--growth anomalies, abnormalities like coral tumors, and white syndromes, infectious diseases similar to flesh eating bacteria.

Disease-aggravating mutation found in a mouse model of neonatal mitochondrial disease
The new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variant drastically speeds up the disease progression in a mouse model of GRACILE syndrome.

Human longevity largest study of its kind shows early detection of disease & disease risks
Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI) announced the publication of a ground-breaking study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

30-year study identifies need of disease-modifying therapies for maple syrup urine disease
A new study analyzes 30 years of patient data and details the clinical course of 184 individuals with genetically diverse forms of Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD), which is among the most volatile and dangerous inherited metabolic disorders.

Long-dormant disease becomes most dominant foliar disease in New York onion crops
Until recently, Stemphylium leaf blight has been considered a minor foliar disease as it has not done much damage in New York since the early 1990s.

Read More: Disease News and Disease Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.