Evidence that Mental Contrasting Reduces Health Information Avoidance

Michelle Z. Yang, Willa C. King, Gabriele Oettingen, Paschal Sheeran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Although learning health information is beneficial for physical well-being, many people opt to avoid learning this information due to its potentially threatening nature. Such avoidance can lead to delays in seeking treatment. Purpose This study tested the effectiveness of a self-regulation technique, mental contrasting (MC), specifically MC of a negative future with a positive current reality, in reducing health information avoidance regarding skin cancer (melanoma). We hypothesized that participants who engaged in MC would be more likely to choose to learn about their melanoma risk than those who completed a control, reflection activity. Methods We conducted a randomized controlled trial (N = 354). Participants were assigned to complete a MC or reflection (control) exercise prior to filling out a melanoma risk calculator. Participants were then asked whether they wanted to learn their melanoma risk, and how much information they would like to know. Results Chi-Square tests revealed that MC decreased melanoma risk information avoidance compared to the reflection activity (12% vs. 23.4%) but did not make participants more likely seek additional information. Conclusion MC is a brief, engaging, and effective strategy for reducing health information avoidance that could prove useful in medical settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)687-692
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023


  • Health
  • Information avoidance
  • Mental contrasting
  • Randomized controlled trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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