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Abstract

We review recent advances in self-regulation theory and research, highlighting implications for communication strategies aimed at persuading individuals to adopt health-protective behaviors. We focus on the role of affect and imagery processes in health persuasion, reviewing research on how fear arousal and imagery influence health information processing and decision-making. Despite ongoing controversy over the use of fear-arousing appeals, considerable empirical evidence supports their efficacy. Such threat appeals can backfire, however, if they fail to address key aspects of self-regulation processes. Research on the cognitive and emotional influences of imagery and other concrete-perceptual stimuli points to strategies for integrating them into health persuasion efforts. Mental simulation techniques represent another promising avenue for communications aimed at fostering health behavior change. New directions of inquiry include research on appeals that arouse emotions other than fear (e.g., positive emotions), more nuanced applications of fear arousal in communications, and applications for computer-based and Internet communications.