Message Derogation and Self-Distancing Denial: Situational and Dispositional Influences on the Use of Denial to Protect Against a Threatening Message


  • This research was supported by Grant #0620602 from the National Science Foundation to the first author.

Suzanne C. Thompson, 647 N. College Way, Department of Psychology, Pomona College, Claremont CA 91711. E-mail:


Five types of denial to protect against the implications of a personal health threat message (cardiovascular disease or CVD) were examined. Undergraduates (N = 150) were randomly assigned to levels of threat and difficulty, read the message, and completed measures of objective risk for CVD, optimistic denial threat orientation, measures of 1 type of message-oriented denial (message derogation) and 4 types of self-oriented denial, and intentions to engage in protective action. High threat and difficulty both provoked message derogation, but low threat led to more self-oriented denial. Individual differences were evident: Those higher in optimistic denial used more self-oriented denial and had lower intention to engage in protective actions. Self-oriented denial mediated the relationship between optimistic denial and behavioral intentions.