Saturday, July 7, 2007

Self esteem is a key to healthy behaviour

shock image on cigarette pack
Do graphic warnings make smokers think over their habit and seek ways to quit or do they just provoke a defensive reaction - from pushing the pictures out of mind to wrapping the packs? A team of psychologists at the University of Sheffield has found that self-affirmation makes smokers less defensive against such warnings.

About forty young smokers have been given a task that increased their self-affirmation, forty others have performed a control task with no such effect. Immediately after the task, the smokers have been viewing four shock images intended for future use on cigarette packs in the European Union. After having viewed the images, they completed a psychological test that assessed their feelings and intentions. It came out that the images are more effective in persons with a higher self esteem. The effect lasted until a week later when the smokers have been tested once more. Those who had been boosted with self-affirmation still reported a higher motivation for quitting.

This is not very difficult to understand. Self-affirmation gives you a feeling of a higher value, hence you have more to lose when your health is in danger. This may also explain, at least partially, why people with a higher education and a higher income tend to live healthier than the average population.

For me, this is the main outcome of the study. I am a bit skeptic about the long-term effect of graphic warnings, because this has been a pre-test with images that have not yet been in use on cigarette packs. Although the self-affirmed persons reported a better motivation for quitting than the others, the actual cigarette consumption did not differ in both groups.

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