Defensive reactions to health-promoting information: an overview and implications for future research

J.P. van 't Riet, R.A.C. Ruiter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    123 Citations (Scopus)


    It is a common finding that recipients of threatening health-promoting information are motivated to dismiss or disregard the information, thus reacting defensively'. This article gives an overview of the literature on defensive reactions to health-promoting information. A distinction is made between: (1) avoidance, (2) denial, (3) cognitive reappraisal and (4) suppression. Although these defensive reactions have been studied repeatedly and thoroughly, we propose that a number of questions remain unanswered. First, little is known about whether avoidance, denial, cognitive reappraisal and suppression have distinct or similar effects on emotional experience and health-conducive behaviour. Second, little is known about the development of defensive reactions over time in case recipients are repeatedly exposed to health-promoting information, which is often the case in a real-life setting. In the present article, we present preliminary answers to these questions, suggesting that cognitive reappraisal has greater potential to result in effective emotion regulation and is more likely to impede healthy behaviour than the other three strategies. We also propose that defensive reactions to health-promoting information do not always reduce health-conducive responses but can co-occur with more adaptive responses or even facilitate them. Finally, we present a hypothesised model of the development of defensiveness over time.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)S104-S136
    JournalHealth Psychol. Rev.
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • protection-motivation theory
    • hiv-prevention interventions
    • fear-arousing communications
    • cigarette warning labels
    • self-exempting beliefs
    • parallel process model
    • emotion regulation
    • experiential avoidance
    • mental-health
    • smoking-cessation


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