Self-affirmation theory

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Health communication campaigns and messages often contain information that makes people aware that they engage in unhealthy behaviors and therefore can be perceived as threatening by people. As a result, people often respond defensively to such information and do not change their unhealthy behaviors. Self-affirmation theory suggests that people respond defensively because the health information poses a threat to people’s self-integrity, that is, their view of themselves as being a good and adequate person. Importantly, self-affirmation theory further proposes that defensive responses to health information can be reduced by giving people an alternative opportunity to maintain self-integrity before exposing them to the health information. This alternative opportunity is called self-affirmation (i.e., an act that demonstrates one’s adequacy). Empirical studies and meta-analyses suggest that self-affirmation can have small but positive effects on reducing defensive responses and can positively influence health message acceptance, intention formation, and health behavior. Important areas for future health communication research are to investigate the mechanisms through which self-affirmation reduces defensive responses to health information, how self-affirmation works in combination with typical communication variables (e.g., message and source factors, medium and audience characteristics), and how self-affirmation can be used in real-world health communication settings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe International Encyclopedia of Health Communication
EditorsE.Y. Ho, C.L. Bylund, J.C.M. Van Weert
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9781119678816
ISBN (Print)9780470673959
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • self-affirmation
  • defensiveness
  • threatening health information
  • message acceptance
  • health behavior
  • persuasion
  • health campaigns
  • risk communication
  • health promotion
  • fear appeal


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