Undermining Optimistic Denial Reactions to Domestic and Campus Emergency Warning Messages



Background: Individuals who prepare for public emergencies can mitigate the effects of an incident, but denial of personal susceptibility may reduce the likelihood of preparation. Some denial may be due to a positive self-image that is at odds with being “at risk”. The potential for an enhanced warning message that included a positive image of a protector to circumvent this denial was tested in two studies. Methods: Optimistic denial threat orientation was measured. Then participants received either a traditional or a positive protector warning message about terrorism (Study 1; nationally representative sample of US adults; N = 587) or campus emergency preparation (Study 2; US college students; N = 179). Results: As predicted, in the enhanced image condition optimistic denial was no longer related to stronger denial reactions and lower intentions to protect oneself. In addition, Study 2 tested explanatory mediators and found that negative perceptions of and low similarity to a protector partially explained the denial of those higher in optimistic denial and why their denial was dampened in the positive image condition. Conclusions: An enhanced message including a positive image of protector may be an effective way to encourage protection for those prone to optimistic denial.