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Abstract

This study explored the interactive effects of dispositional threat orientation, type of message, and having children on reactions to a message about exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics. The study used a 2 (message: Fear Arousal or Plain)×2 (parenting status: child or no child)×2 (threat orientation: high or low) mixed factorial design. Adults (N= 200) recruited via the Internet completed measures of threat orientations, reported whether they were a parent, and read either a low or high fear-arousal message about the risks of BPA exposure. They then completed measures of reactions to the message (perceived susceptibility to BPA effects, negative emotions, and behavioural intentions to engage in protection). Depending on threat orientations, the fear arousal version of the message and parenthood had strikingly different effects, ranging from no effect (for those high in a control-based approach) to prompting change (for those low in a control-based approach) to counterproductive (for those high in an optimistic denial approach). These findings suggest that considering individual differences and their interactions with situational factors could improve both the predictive ability of threat protection theories and the delivery of messages intended to change behaviour.

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... In the TO model, people of the control-based orientation (CO) have realistic perceptions of the threat they face (Thompson et al., 2011). They are motivated to take appropriate preventative and protective action to eliminate the dangers posed by a threatening situation, without overreacting. ...
... Denial-based orientation (DO) individuals seek to protect themselves from feeling threatened and to reduce or deny any fear from the threat, without actually addressing the risk factor that poses the threat. Denial can take the form of optimistic bias or avoidance denial, both of which are counterproductive (Thompson et al., 2011). Optimistic bias leads one to feel a lack of susceptibility to the threat and to demonstrate reaction against the threat. ...
... Avoidance denial individuals avoid receiving threatening information or they ignore it. If these individuals are not able to avoid or deny the threat, they may feel quite vulnerable and have a high level of concern, but still not take action (Thompson et al., 2011). ...
Article
Purpose This paper aims to assess the interactive impact of dispositional threat orientation and affirmation (both self-affirmation and self-efficacy) on the effectiveness of fear appeals. Design/methodology/approach A 3 × 2 × 2 × 2 fully crossed, mixed experimental design is used. The study is conducted through an on-line survey platform. Participants are nationally representative in terms of age, gender and geographic location within the USA. Findings Threat orientation impacts individuals’ responses to fear appeals. Control-oriented individuals respond in a more adaptive manner, heightened-sensitivity-oriented individuals are a “mixed-bag” and denial-oriented individuals respond in a more maladaptive manner. Affirmations (both self-affirmation and self-efficacy) interact with threat orientation in some cases to predict response to threat. Research limitations/implications This research used a cross-sectional approach in an on-line environment. A longitudinal study with a stronger self-affirmation intervention and self-efficacy manipulation would offer a stronger test. Practical implications Social marketers should consider whether their primary target market has a general tendency toward a particular threat orientation when considering the use of fear appeals. Social marketers should consider the potential benefits of a self-affirmation intervention. Social implications Individuals’ personality dispositions impact how they respond to fear appeals, which may explain why some seemingly well executed fear appeals are unsuccessful whereas others succeed. Originality/value Little or no research has examined the use of self-affirmation to overcome the challenges posed by dispositional threat orientation. This research gives an early glimpse into how these issues interplay.
... 1 These orientations consist of a profile of responses to threat that includes cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects such as the propensities to perceive high or low personal susceptibility, to worry or be indifferent to threats, and to take or not take protective action. Because the TOM includes cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tendencies, it can explain how a single threatening health message might prompt protective behaviors in some, result in no behavior change in others, and may actually discourage protective behaviors in still others (Thompson, Robbins, Payne, & Castillo, in press;Thompson, Schlehofer, Gonzalez, & Denison, 2011). ...
... The fact that the model allows for individuals to be high in two or more orientations suggests that situational factors, as well as cues embedded in a threat message, could differentially elicit the activation and use of a particular threat orientation. Research has begun to uncover ways in which threat orientations interact with situational factors and message cues to elicit particular cognitive, emotional, and behavioral response tendencies from individuals (Thompson, Robbins, et al., in press;Thompson, Schlehofer, et al., 2011). ...
... These denial-reduction additions were unsuccessful: Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions to these messages were not significantly different from reactions to the basic message. An additional condition, which entailed a message designed to arouse fear, was effective at manipulating reactions; findings from this condition are available inThompson, Schlehofer, et al. (2011). Participants who received the fear-arousing message are not included in the analysis reported in this article.THREAT ORIENTATIONS AND BPA ...
Article
Individual differences in processing information about a personal threat message about bisphenol A (BPA) risk were examined using the threat orientation model (Thompson & Schlehofer, 200825. Thompson , S. C. , & Schlehofer , M. M. ( 2008 ). Control, denial, and heightened sensitivity reactions to personal threat: Testing the generalizability of the threat orientation approach . Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 34 , 1070 – 1083 . [CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®]View all references). Adults (N = 448) read a risk message concerning BPA in plastics. Threat orientations, intentions to protect oneself from BPA risk, and emotional and cognitive reactions to the message were measured. Individuals with different approaches to threat reached different conclusions about the message and used different information in that process. These findings suggest that consideration of individual differences could improve the predictive ability of existing theoretical models and the effectiveness of health and safety messages.
... Optimistic denial and bias. The degree to which someone denies that a threat or warning message is a true danger is an individual difference called optimistic denial (Thompson, Schlehofer, Gonzalez, & Denison, 2011). A related construct is optimistic bias, or the degree to which an individual thinks negative events are unlikely to happen; this trait has been shown to increase with understanding (Chapin & Coleman, 2009) but to decrease with experience about emergencies (Chapin, 2001). ...
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There are many known problems with inappropriate response to emergency warnings. Recommended actions are not always properly followed, and sometimes emergency warnings are not taken seriously. A variety of psychological individual differences can influence the perception of emergency warnings. At present, warning distributors do not consider how these factors affect emergency warning response. We recommend that emergency warning distribution systems be developed that account for these differences to improve response. To this end, we propose four guidelines supported by psychological research and inspired by currently available technologies. These guidelines frame a user-centered approach to more appropriately tailor warning messages for each recipient.
... To date, a number of studies have explored (e.g., Vander Ploeg, Maximova, Kuhle, Simen-Kapeu, & Veugelers, 2012) the key roles played by parents and employers in the health of others. These studies indicate that health messages targeting parents enhanced risk perception as it pertained to their children's health and stimulated parent–child communication (Thompson et al., 2011). Such health messages were also found to increase parental support of their children's physical activities (Craig et al., 2009; Price, Huhman & Potter, 2008) and healthy diet (Coulter & Pinto, 1995), as well as to improve parental willingness to vaccinate their children (O'Keefe & Nan, 2012). ...
... Because of this, they are less likely to engage in protective behaviors. Research finds that the optimistic denial orientation is associated with lower intentions to engage in health protective behaviors (Thompson et al., 2006;Thompson, Schlehofer, Gonzalez, & Denison, 2011) and less worry about identity theft (Thompson & Schlehofer, 2008). ...
Article
Individual differences in threat in reactions to personal threat were examined using four health or theft threats. Probability and severity of the threats were manipulated. Participants (n = 94) completed measures of threat orientations, read each message, and rated perceived risk, concern, as well as current and intended protective behavior. As expected, consistency in reactions to threat was found across the four threats and in predicted patterns with dispositional threat orientations. Furthermore, threat orientations predicted perceived risk independent of probability and severity, and each threat orientation showed a different pattern of concern about the threats, based on current protection. Two ways to apply these findings to the communication of threat information are considered.
... Relationships between dispositional measures of the tendency to use denial and defensive reactions to information have been found across a great variety of threats, including the dangers of 428154H EBXXX10.1177/1090198111428154Tho mpson and TingHealth Education & Behavior 1 bisphenol-A, which leaches from household plastics (Thompson, Schlehofer, Gonzalez, & Denison, 2011), cardiovascular risk for young adults (Thompson, Robbins, Payne, & Castillo, 2011), and a graphic antialcohol message (Brown & Locker, 2009). Those who are higher in a denialbased orientation to personal threat are more likely to show defensive reactions such as derogating the validity or relevance of the message or denying the self-relevance of the threat even when objective evidence would indicate that it is relevant. ...
Article
Two distinctly different denial-based threat orientations (avoidance denial and optimistic denial) were examined using a message about the future risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) for young adults. Participants (N = 101) completed measures of denial-based dispositional threat orientations, current eating, comparative risk, and objective risk for CVD. They then read a high-threat message about CVD and rated their reactions of threat, denial, and worry. One month later, eating patterns in the past month were assessed. Both types of dispositional denial processes were associated with more self-distancing denial, but showed distinctly different, sometimes opposite, patterns of relationships with perceptions of threat, worry, and optimistic self-risk for CVD. In addition, the two denial-based processes were driven by different factors. The implications of these two denial-based threat orientations for the development of theory on denial and health messages, as well as the design of messages to change behavior, are discussed.
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Two studies investigated situational and dispositional influences on rejection of a sleep deprivation warning message for young adults. The hassle of protection (Study 1) and the self-relevance of the problem (Study 2) were manipulated; the disposition to use denial (threat orientation) for warning messages was measured. In both studies, it was found that both dispositional denial and the situational manipulation (more protection-hassle or self-relevance) showed at least one denial effect by reducing perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, or credibility. Indirect (mediational) effects were tested with the bootstrap method. In Study 1, judgments of credibility and severity mediated the effects of the hassle manipulation and denial orientation on message outcomes. In Study 2, credibility mediated the effects of the self-relevance manipulation and denial orientation on message outcomes of intentions to change and priority given to sleep. These studies show that both situational and dispositional sources of denial work in similar ways by lowering key message judgments and that the lower judgments lead to less priority given to a health risk and lower intentions to protect oneself.
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The proposed conceptual framework further advance our theoretical understanding of consumer cognitive, emotional and behavioral processes associated with fear/challenge message appeals in a social marketing context. We integrate disparate areas of knowledge from the fields of psychology and personality research and examine moderating effects of individual differences such as experiential avoidance, distress tolerance, and identity styles on information processing and behavior when exposed to a combined fear/challenge appeal. The proposed theoretical framework combines an information processing construct with a revised protection motivation model, to more explicitly reveal how cognitive processing affects persuasion of fear/challenge appeals. The conceptual framework also tests the mediating effects of response efficacy and self-accountability on depth of information processing and attitude change. Understanding the intricate details of information processing should enable social marketers to tailor messages to specific psychological profiles of customers in order to alter their behavior.
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Background: Individuals who prepare for public emergencies can mitigate the effects of an incident, but denial of personal susceptibility may reduce the likelihood of preparation. Some denial may be due to a positive self-image that is at odds with being "at risk". The potential for an enhanced warning message that included a positive image of a protector to circumvent this denial was tested in two studies. Methods: Optimistic denial threat orientation was measured. Then participants received either a traditional or a positive protector warning message about terrorism (Study 1; nationally representative sample of US adults; N = 587) or campus emergency preparation (Study 2; US college students; N = 179). Results: As predicted, in the enhanced image condition optimistic denial was no longer related to stronger denial reactions and lower intentions to protect oneself. In addition, Study 2 tested explanatory mediators and found that negative perceptions of and low similarity to a protector partially explained the denial of those higher in optimistic denial and why their denial was dampened in the positive image condition. Conclusions: An enhanced message including a positive image of protector may be an effective way to encourage protection for those prone to optimistic denial.
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People tend to be comparatively optimistic (i.e., believe that negative outcomes are less likely for themselves than for typical others) regarding their susceptibility to negative health outcomes. The present study investigates the extent to which perceptions of the severity of these health outcomes show similar comparative optimism. A student sample (study 1; N = 200) and a healthy non-student adult sample (study 2; N = 257) completed self-report measures of susceptibility, severity, worry, control and experience in relation to negative health outcomes. Participants in both studies demonstrated significant levels of comparative optimism for both perceived likelihood and severity of health outcomes. Comparative optimism concerning severity was very strongly associated (r = 0.85 to 0.89) with comparative optimism concerning susceptibility. In addition to being comparatively optimistic over their chances of experiencing negative health outcomes, people are also comparatively optimistic regarding how severe the health outcomes will be.
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This meta-analysis of studies of the persuasive impact of fear appeals evaluated the contribution of our stage model of the processing of fear-arousing communications relative to other fear appeal theories. In contrast to other theories, our stage model (a) specifies the cognitive processes underlying persuasion through fear-arousing communications, (b) proposes that threat-induced defensive processing does not interfere with the effectiveness of fear-arousing communications but actually contributes to it, and (c) predicts that vulnerability and severity manipulations have differential effects on measures of attitude as compared with intention and behavior. To evaluate these predictions, the authors expanded on previous meta-analyses by assessing the independent as well as joint effects of vulnerability to and severity of a risk, both on information processing and on measures of persuasion (attitude, intention, behavior). Overall, findings were consistent with the stage model. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
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The threat orientation model proposes three dispositional responses to threats: control, heightened sensitivity, and denial. Two studies explored the psychometric properties of the previously developed threat orientation scales and the relationship between the orientations and the responses to a variety of threats. Study 1 found that the control-based and heightened sensitivity-based scales are reliable and were related to perceptions of health, financial, and terrorist threats with a nationally representative sample. Findings held across gender, age, and ethnic groups. Furthermore, Study 1 suggested two types of denial processes: optimistic denial and avoidance denial. Study 2 used a diverse sample to gain additional evidence for two processes of denial and developed measures of each type.
Manuscript under review
  • S. C. Thompson
  • S. Ting
  • A. Gonzalez
  • A. Ryan
National Research Center for Women & Families
  • D. Zuckerman
  • P. Brown
  • L. Walls