Despite important progress toward identifying behavioral health risk factors for different forms of cancer there are still considerable gaps in understanding what leads certain individuals to engage in health promotion behavior, and why some individuals all-too-often continue to put their health at risk. Significance insight may be gained by considering the deeper motivational and psychological processes that are elicited when people are confronted with, both consciously and unconsciously, thoughts of cancer and, ultimately, their death. Indeed, an increasing amount of social psychological research indicates a diverse array of self-regulatory processes (both cognitive and behavioral) function to protect individuals from concerns associated with mortality. Yet there have been few applications of these ideas or research to behavioral health. The present application addresses this gap by integrating ideas about psychological consequences of fears of death with behavioral risk factors for cancer. The hypotheses guiding this research are that concerns about death and cancer can engender two types of psychological defense, each of which may have adaptive or maladaptive health implications. In response to conscious fears about cancer and death, """"""""direct"""""""" psychological defenses aim to reduce perceived vulnerability. In response to unconscious death-related fears, """"""""symbolic"""""""" psychological defenses are directed toward maintaining a sense of meaning and self-esteem: such efforts may occur along health-relevant dimensions (e.g., tanning to improve one's appearance). Fifteen experimental studies are proposed to explicate the conditions associated with each type of defense, and when, how, why, and for whom thee defensive strategies have adaptive (e.g., intentions to conduct self-breast exams) or maladaptive (e.g., avoidance of health information) implications for risky (e.g., smoking) and preventative (e.g., using sun screen) behaviors. This research program thus has the potential to illuminate previously unrecognized factors in cancer risk prevention. By highlighting the importance of peoples' motivation to remove thoughts of death from consciousness and to defend against unconscious mortality concerns, education and interventions fostering cancer prevention can be markedly improved.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPHB-4 (01))
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Nelson, Wendy
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University of Missouri-Columbia
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Arndt, Jamie; Goldenberg, Jamie L (2017) Where Health and Death Intersect: Insights from a Terror Management Health Model. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 26:126-131
Morris, Kasey Lynn; Cooper, Douglas P; Goldenberg, Jamie L et al. (2014) Improving the efficacy of appearance-based sun exposure interventions with the terror management health model. Psychol Health 29:1245-64
Arndt, Jamie; Das, Enny; Schagen, Sanne B et al. (2014) Broadening the cancer and cognition landscape: the role of self-regulatory challenges. Psychooncology 23:1-8
Cox, Cathy R; Reid-Arndt, Stephanie A; Arndt, Jamie et al. (2012) Considering the unspoken: the role of death cognition in quality of life among women with and without breast cancer. J Psychosoc Oncol 30:128-39
Vess, Matthew; Arndt, Jamie; Cox, Cathy R et al. (2009) Exploring the existential function of religion: the effect of religious fundamentalism and mortality salience on faith-based medical refusals. J Pers Soc Psychol 97:334-50
Goldenberg, Jamie L; Routledge, Clay; Arndt, Jamie (2009) Mammograms and the management of existential discomfort: threats associated with the physicality of the body and neuroticism. Psychol Health 24:563-81
Goldenberg, Jamie L; Arndt, Jamie (2008) The implications of death for health: a terror management health model for behavioral health promotion. Psychol Rev 115:1032-53
Goldenberg, Jamie L; Arndt, Jamie; Hart, Joshua et al. (2008) Uncovering an Existential Barrier to Breast Self-exam Behavior. J Exp Soc Psychol 44:260-274
Arndt, Jamie; Cook, Alison; Goldenberg, Jamie L et al. (2007) Cancer and the threat of death: the cognitive dynamics of death-thought suppression and its impact on behavioral health intentions. J Pers Soc Psychol 92:12-29
Goldenberg, Jamie L; Arndt, Jamie; Hart, Joshua et al. (2005) Dying to be thin: the effects of mortality salience and body mass index on restricted eating among women. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 31:1400-12

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