Neuroscientific evidence for defensive avoidance of fear appeals

Loes T. E. Kessels, Robert A. C. Ruiter, Liesbeth Wouters, Bernadette M. Jansma
Published Online:
27 Jan 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 49 Issue 2

Additional Options

Previous studies indicate that people respond defensively to threatening health information, especially when the information challenges self‐relevant goals. The authors investigated whether reduced acceptance of self‐relevant health risk information is already visible in early attention allocation processes. In two experimental studies, participants were watching high‐ and low‐threat health commercials, and at the same time had to pay attention to specific odd auditory stimuli in a sequence of frequent auditory stimuli (odd ball paradigm). The amount of attention allocation was measured by recording event‐related brain potentials (i.e., P300 ERPs) and reaction times. Smokers showed larger P300 amplitudes in response to the auditory targets while watching high‐threat instead of low‐threat anti‐smoking commercials. In contrast, non‐smokers showed smaller P300 amplitudes during watching high as opposed to low threat anti‐smoking commercials. In conclusion, the findings provide further neuroscientific support for the hypothesis that threatening health information causes more avoidance responses among those for whom the health threat is self‐relevant.

© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Psychology published by John Wiley © Sons Ltd on behalf of International Union of Psychological Science