Much research on public communication campaigns has shown that the negative appeals (e.g. fear, guilt appeals) commonly used may not be effective for encouraging prosocial behaviors, as they can facilitate defensive processing. Self-affirmation theory suggests that self-affirmation may be a useful strategy for mitigating defensive responses to potentially self-threatening messages. This cross-national study explored the effect of self-affirmation on the persuasiveness of a threat appeal message in the context of climate change. An experiment with a 3 (no affirmation versus message-integrated affirmation versus message-separate affirmation) × 2 (high self-threatening versus low self-threatening message) × 2 (U.S. versus Korea) factorial design (N = 225, U.S.; N = 255, Korea) was employed to test this postulation. The results suggested that self-affirmation has a positive effect on perceived risk, attitude toward message, and intention to engage in environmentally-friendly behaviors, although this effect is limited to high self-threat conditions. Additionally, a statistically significant interaction between self-affirmation and culture was found for the effect on behavioral intention. Finally, message-integrated affirmation manipulation was found to be as effective as message-separate affirmation manipulation. The implications of these findings for public communication campaigns in terms of promoting prosocial behaviors are discussed.
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