Impact of brief self-affirmation manipulations on university students' reactions to risk information about binge drinking

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Abstract

Objectives

Binge drinking is associated with an array of negative health consequences and is particularly prevalent in university students. Health-risk messages about alcohol may fail to change such behaviour because they are dismissed or derogated. The present study sought to compare the effect of three brief self-affirmation manipulations on message processing, message acceptance, and subsequent alcohol-related behaviour in university students.

Design

Participants (N = 307) were randomly allocated to condition (kindness questionnaire, values essay, attributes questionnaire, control questionnaire) before reading a health-risk message about binge drinking.

Methods

After reading the message, participants completed measures of message processing (message reactance, message evaluation, counter-arguing) and message acceptance (perceived risk, intention, plans) as well as a manipulation check. Alcohol consumption was assessed 1 week later.

Results

Participants in all three self-affirmation conditions scored significantly higher than participants in the control condition on the manipulation check measure. All other self-affirmation effects were non-significant.

Conclusions

While the three self-affirmation manipulations were found to be self-affirming, they failed to impact on measures of message processing, message acceptance, or subsequent behaviour. The findings concur with previous research that questions the use of self-affirmation to reduce alcohol consumption in university students. Current self-affirmation manipulations may not be strong enough to overcome defensive processing of health-risk messages about alcohol in students and/or prime social goals that are related to the domain under threat (i.e., alcohol consumption), thereby nullifying any positive self-affirmation effects.

Statement of contribution

What is already known on this subject?

Statement of contribution

What does this study add?

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