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Article

Successfully conveying information about the risk of potential threats to an individual’s physical and mental health is a serious challenge for healthcare practitioners. Adding to the challenge is the role of individual differences in people’s tendencies to want to learn (or in their choice to passively avoid) new information. These characteristic motives can be both curious and incurious in nature and interact with the perceived locus of the relevant health threat, which must be taken into account first. Some health threats are relatively “external,” and involve addressing the potential risk of an undesired event (e.g., developing illness, encountering relationship troubles). Research indicates that individuals who view external threats as “controllable” are more likely to respond positively to relevant information, but perception of control alone does not determine whether health-relevant information is likely to be sought or acted on. Besides perceived controllability, individual differences in incurious worry reduction motives (IWRM) play an important role as well. Two different kinds of IWRM have been identified: focus on distress (IWRM-FD) and focus on relief (IWRM-FR). Dispositional tendencies toward IWRM-FD are associated with greater willingness to seek out information when risk is perceived as low (i.e., information about the potential external threat is expected to make one feel better), but a tendency to passively avoid any information when risk is considered high (i.e., information is expected to intensify distress). In contrast, tendencies toward IWRM-FR reflect wanting more information about potential threats when risk is believed to be high, while passively avoiding news when perceived risk is low. In regard to coping with perceived risk, IWRM-FD scores predict avoidant coping, whereas IWRM-FR levels are associated with proactive coping and seeking others’ advice. Other risks are more “internal,” and involve threats to an individual’s certainty about his or her self-concept, purpose in life, or the wisdom of past behavior; in short, an “identity crisis.” Such threats underlie wondering things like “Who am I, really?” and are associated with less self-awareness, lower self-esteem, and greater overall distress. In response to internal threats, intrapersonal curiosity (InC) motivates individuals to engage in introspective self-exploration that may help them to clarify, to elaborate on, and to improve their understanding of their self-concept. Recent research has found that individual differences in InC are positively associated with IWRM, suggesting that dealing with identity crises involves the desire to better know oneself, as well as wishing to mitigate worries about experiencing self-doubt. Bearing the above in mind, research on individual differences in tendencies to avail oneself of different coping strategies indicates that proactive coping (e.g., positive reframing, seeking advice) tends to result in beneficial outcomes, such as personal growth and improved health, but some proactive strategies are “double-edged” and may lead to some negative outcomes as well. In particular, proactive strategies like acceptance of one’s limitations or discussing them with others when seeking social support were helpful, but they also had the potential to leave individuals feeling less sure of themselves. These findings suggest that practitioners who wish to more effectively communicate information about risk of potential health threats should consider whether the nature of the threat is internal or external, the role of individual differences in IWRM and InC, and how to help their patients to focus on the positive benefits of acceptance (i.e., identify solvable problems) and seeking social support (i.e., acquiring useful advice) over the negative aspects (i.e., admitting limitations).

Article

Kristin L. Farris and Maureen P. Keeley

Social support in the context of chronic illness management is important, as individuals diagnosed with these conditions and their loved ones often experience increased distress, reduced relational quality, and diminished physical health as a result of coping with these long-term symptoms. Therefore, diagnosed individuals and their close relational partners rely on others to provide support in their time of need. The communication of social support is characterized by “verbal and nonverbal behavior produced with the intention of providing assistance to others perceived of needing that aid” (MacGeorge, Feng, & Burleson, 2011, p. 317). Individuals living with these chronic illnesses and their loved ones often turn to a variety of interpersonal others, including friends, family, health care providers, and support groups to manage the difficulties that accompany their physical symptoms. Although some researchers suggest that diagnosed individuals seek support most frequently from close relational partners, other scholars assert that chronic care support groups (whether meeting face to face or via computer-mediated channels) offer support recipients an opportunity to discuss their challenges and receive help from experientially similar others. On the one hand, regardless of the support provider, individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic conditions generally perceive effective supportive communication to be messages in which their support providers enact competent tangible assistance in managing the illness, provide an opportunity for them to vent their feelings, and express messages of empathy and affection, among others. Ineffective messages, on the other hand, are those in which diagnosed individuals feel their partners are overly involved in helping them make decisions about their care or portraying negative attitudes or discomfort around them. Overall, research in this area suggests that support recipients and their relational partners have improved emotional, relational, and physical outcomes when they perceive support to be available or receive effective support from these resources.

Article

Melanie Booth-Butterfield and Melissa Wanzer

Effective humor enactment has been proven to be beneficial to both senders and receivers of the communication. Use of humor in social interaction has the potential to elicit positive perceptions, improve interpersonal interactions, reduce conflict, aid in coping, and even facilitate health outcomes. In contrast, poorly communicated, ill-timed, or maladaptive humor is often detrimental to both personal perceptions and relationships. Specific factors regarding these bidirectional outcomes are examined in this article. Humorous enactments are inherently a goal-oriented form of communication that involves social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral elements. The individual intends to accomplish some goal through communicating humor, no matter how obscure or subconscious the act might seem. Hence the communicator encodes verbal and/or nonverbal messages to achieve this aim. By comparison, genuine responses to humor (whether a trait pattern or situationally immediate) are not goal-oriented, but rather spontaneous reactions to humorous messages. Therefore, laughter, snickering, and the like may be authentic, unguarded amusement responses. Research and discussion of interpersonal humor entail several foundational premises which must be addressed: productive and unproductive forms of humor, differences between source and receiver approaches, interactional versus presentational perspectives, varying functions and outcomes of humor across different stages of relationship development and decline, as well as attention to some less-often studied contexts. The application of theoretical frameworks such as Incongruity, Instructional Humor Processing, Superiority, Dispositional, and Benign Violations theories help guide our predictions and explanations of humorous messages.

Article

Whether viewed as a domain-specific behavior or as an enduring tendency, procrastination is a common form of self-regulation failure that is increasingly recognized as having implications for health-related outcomes. Central to procrastination is the prioritization of reducing immediate negative mood at the cost of decisions and actions that provide long-term rewards, such as engaging in health behaviors. Because people tend to procrastinate on tasks they find difficult, unpleasant, or challenging, many health-promoting behaviors are possible candidates for procrastination. As modifiable risk factors for the prevention of disease and disability, health behaviors are often the target of health risk communications aimed at health behavior change and reducing health procrastination. Research has consistently demonstrated the deleterious effects of chronic procrastination on health outcomes, including poor physical health, fewer health promoting behaviors, and higher stress in healthy adults and those already living with a chronic health condition. Examining the factors and psychological characteristics associated with chronic procrastination can provide insights into the processes involved in procrastination more generally, as well as the qualities of the health messages that can promote or prevent procrastination of the targeted behaviors. Low future orientation, avoidant coping, low tolerance for negative emotions, and low self-efficacy need to be considered when designing effective health risk communications to reduce procrastination of health behaviors. Yet, health risk communications aimed at reducing procrastination of important health behaviors such as healthy eating, regular physical activity, screening behaviors, and cessation of risky health behaviors often use fear appeals to motivate taking protective actions to reduce health risks. Such approaches may not be effective because they amplify the negative feelings towards the health behaviors, which can engender maladaptive coping responses and motivate procrastination rather than adaptive responding. This is especially likely among individuals prone to procrastination more generally, or specifically with respect to health. Health risk communication approaches that minimize the negative emotions associated with risk messages and instead highlight short-term benefits of engaging in health behaviors may be necessary to reduce further health behavior procrastination among individuals prone to this form of self-regulation failure.