Threats to autonomy: motivational responses to risk information

Pavey, Louisa J. and Sparks, Paul (2008) Threats to autonomy: motivational responses to risk information. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38(5), pp. 852-865. ISSN (print) 0046-2772


Two studies considered the role of autonomy in people’s motivational response to health-risk information. In Study 1, ‘non-smoker’ participants (N = 59) completed a measure of autonomy and read either health-risk information about smoking or neutral information. Those who read the health risk information reported less autonomous motivation for not smoking than did those who read the neutral information. However, level of autonomy moderated this effect: lower autonomy participants reported less autonomous motivation after reading the health-risk information than after reading the neutral information but there was no such effect for higher autonomy participants. Study 2 (N = 100) supported the results of Study 1 using a sample of smokers, with a significant interaction between autonomy and health-risk condition predicting autonomous motivation. Higher autonomy participants reported greater autonomous motivation to quit smoking after reading health-risk information than after reading neutral information. There was no effect of condition for lower autonomy participants. Autonomous and controlled motivation was also considered in relation to the antecedents of intention outlined in the TPB. The findings are discussed in relation to the differential motivational impact of risk information on people with higher or lower autonomy.

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