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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

Douglas L. Kelley, Bianca M. Wolf, and Shelby E. Broberg

Research on forgiveness and its health-related effects has steadily increased since the late 20th century. Most of the forgiveness-health literature demonstrates that forgiveness indirectly influences health through a variety of psychosocial affective factors. Common distinctions in this research are reflected in studies focused on reduction of negative affect and, thus, negative health effects, and studies focused on preventative and health-promoting implications of forgiveness (e.g., increased positive affect). While a lack of clarity exists regarding health implications stemming from reductions in unforgiveness (as distinct from increases in forgiving responses), current research supports the notion that forgiveness, as opposed to unforgiveness, affects psychological, physical, and relational health in overridingly beneficial ways. More specifically, forgiveness, and/or the moderation of unforgiveness, is associated with the exhibition of positive affect (e.g., sympathy, empathy, and optimism), improved self-esteem, higher life satisfaction, and better mental health ratings. Physical health effects of forgiveness include enhanced bioregulation in response to transgression stressors, as well as better self-rated health status and the exhibition of positive health behaviors. Limitations in the current literature most commonly relate to disparate definitional, methodological, and interpretative issues typical of transdisciplinary forgiveness and health research. Current trends and future directions for forgiveness-health research include consideration of additional variables thought to be associated with forgiveness processes, including religiosity, empathy, and social support. Additionally, research that focuses on communicative and relational aspects of health and well-being is warranted. Suggestions for research opportunities in forgiveness-health research framed by a communicative lens are offered.

Article

M. Jeffrey Farrar, Yao Guan, and Kaitlyn Erhardt

Humans live not only in a physical world but also in a mental world. Theory of mind reflects the understanding that the mind is comprised of different mental states, such as intentions, desires, and beliefs. This conception of the mind is a critical achievement in human development because it directly impacts effective communication and social interaction. It allows for the understanding of others’ behaviors by inferring their mental states. The formation of a theory of mind has been a central topic in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. It impacts related processes, such as communication skills, perspective-taking ability, and social cognition. Across the life span, the understanding of the mind becomes increasingly complex. Early in development, infants and toddlers can discern the intentions of others. Later, more sophisticated reasoning about the mental states of others becomes possible. For instance, the ability to follow and understand the recursive thought that “Sam believes, that Mary said, that Jose wanted . . .” develops. Additionally, within distinctive developmental time periods, people differ in their ability to take into account mental states. Once people’s beliefs, including their misconceptions, are identified, it is possible to generate effective communication strategies designed to teach, learn, and even reduce risk-taking behaviors.

Article

James M. Honeycutt and Robert M. McCann

Imagined interactions (IIs) are a process of social cognition and mental imagery in which individuals imagine and therefore indirectly experience themselves in anticipated and/or past communicative encounters with others. They have been studied in intergroup communication in terms of communication apprehension (CA), group conflict, teasing and bullying, cross-cultural differences, political partisanship, and sexual orientation. They have their theoretical foundation in the work of classic symbolic interactionists and phenomenologists, as well as cognitive script theory. IIs possess many of the same attributes as real conversations, in that they may be fragmentary, extended, rambling, repetitive, or coherent. They are a means of problem solving by allowing an individual to think through a problem. There are 14 features of IIs, comprised of eight attributes (frequency, proactivity, retroactivity, valence, discrepancy, self-dominance, variety, and specificity) and six functions (compensation, rehearsal, understanding, conflict linkage, relational maintenance, and catharsis). Brief descriptions of the functions follow: They compensate for lack of real interaction, they maintain conflict as well as resolving it, they are used to rehearse messages for future interaction, they aid people in self-understanding through clarifying attitudes and beliefs, they provide emotional catharsis by relieving tension, and they help maintain relationships through intrusive thinking about a relational partner outside of their physical presence. In terms of the attributes, frequency represents how often people experience them. Proactivity and retroactivity are concerned with the timing of the II in relation to actual conversations. Proactive IIs occur before an anticipated encounter, while retroactive IIs occur afterward. Retroactivity is very common in films and movies in which characters have flashbacks. Proactive and retroactive IIs can occur simultaneously, as individuals replay prior conversations in their minds while preparing for ensuing interactions. Discrepancy occurs when what was imagined is different from what happens in actual conversations. Since IIs can be used for message planning, most of the imaginary talk comes from the self, with less emphasis being placed on listening to what the interaction partner says. This reflects the self-dominance attribute. The variety characteristic of IIs reflects individual differences in the number of topics that are discussed in the IIs and whom they involve. IIs tend to occur with significant others such as relational partners, family, and friends. They do not occur with people whom we rarely see. Valence reflects how positive or negative the emotions are while having an II. Finally, IIs vary in their specificity, or how vague the imagined lines of dialogue are, as well as the setting where the imaginary encounter occurs.