Threading the needle in health-risk communication: increasing vulnerability salience while promoting self-worth. Academic Article uri icon


  • Health interventions often draw attention to the risks associated with unhealthy choice but in the process produce a boomerang effect such that those targeted become more committed to risky behavior. In 2 studies designed to promote condom use among sexually active college students, the authors document strategies for highlighting risk while promoting healthy choices. Study 1 demonstrated that optimistic perceptions regarding the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be counteracted by drawing attention to the emotional consequences of contracting STDs, instead of its likelihood. Rather than promoting condom use, however, this procedure generated a boomerang effect: It decreased commitment to using condoms, especially among high self-esteem individuals. Study 2 showed that this unwanted effect could be reversed when emotional vulnerability was paired with a self-affirmation. This finding suggests that there can be benefits to adding threatening content to health interventions, provided that the message also contains elements designed to protect feelings of self-worth.

published proceedings

  • J Health Commun

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Blanton, H., Gerrard, M., & McClive-Reed, K. P.

citation count

  • 9

complete list of authors

  • Blanton, Hart||Gerrard, Meg||McClive-Reed, Kimberly P

publication date

  • November 2013