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The fear of being stigmatised by others often le people to avoid professional help. This stigma can also be internalised, further reducing the likelihood of seeking help. Understanding these different forms of stigma can help psychologists target interventions at different levels to help people overcome the barriers to seeking help. One of the most common reasons for people to not seek treatment is concern about stigma. In the psychotherapy literature, stigma has generally referred to the public stigma of having a mental illness, with the clearest example being schizophrenia. Although in most industrialised societies today the mentally ill are no longer overtly persecuted, there are clear indications of the presence of public stigma towards individuals with a mental illness.


Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Question: How have theorists and empirical researchers treated the human tendency to avoid discomforting information? Data Sources: A historical review — of theory literature in communication and information studies, coupled with searches of recent studies on uptake of genetic testing and on coping strategies of cancer patients, was performed.

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Main : The assumption that individuals actively seek information underlies much of psychological theory and communication practice, as well as most models of the information-seeking process. However, much research has also noted that sometimes people avoid information, if paying attention to it will cause mental discomfort or dissonance. Cancer information in general and genetic screening for cancer in particular are discussed as examples to illustrate this pattern.

Conclusion: That some patients avoid knowledge of imminent disease makes avoidance behavior an important area for social and psychological research, particularly with regard to genetic testing. Beyond obsessions, curiosity, and creativity, lies a host of motivations not to seek information. Johnson [1].

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Many early studies of communication, whether of mass or interpersonal communication, have assumed that individuals seek, or at least pay some attention to, sources of information. For this reason perhaps, the emphasis in research on communication and on information seeking has been on active acquisition of information e. Most discussions of information seeking also focus on the benefits of acquiring data.

Many models of the information-seeking process e. As in Aristotle's time, it is assumed that people want to know; looking for information is a natural aspect of being human.

Yet, it has also long been noted that people may avoid information, if paying attention to it will cause mental discomfort or dissonance. He recognized that sometimes we would rather not know that we are at high risk for a disease or disaster—a tendency familiar to communication researchers, especially those involved in information campaigns, as well as health information professionals and researchers.

The tendency to avoid, ignore, or deny information has always been somewhat of an anomaly in human behavior. How have communication theories and information-seeking models dealt with it?

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The authors are interested in the latter in this paper. In addressing this issue, we first examine the evolution of relevant concepts and theories and then explore how some information-seeking models incorporate the notion of avoiding information.

The notion of avoiding information has a long history in the communication literature and a much longer one in the discipline of psychology.

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Perhaps as far back as James's writings on will and attention [ 8 ] and certainly in Freud's theories about psychological defenses repression, suppression, and denial [ 9 ], psychologists have discussed the tendency of humans to allow uncomfortable thoughts or memories to slip away. An early characterization of avoidance was that of an intentional selection of some stimuli rather than others. On the basis of their studies, Hyman and Sheatsley observed that humans tend to seek information that is congruent with their prior knowledge, beliefs, and opinions and to avoid exposure to information that conflicts with those internal states.

Festinger's ideas about avoiding dissonance were rooted in theories of social comparison i. Festinger had demonstrated that under certain circumstances people prefer to seek out information consonant with their knowledge. Later experiments by Frey [ 14 ] showed that such preferences differ by whether the situation is serious and whether those involved have an opportunity to do something about it.

In general, if nothing can be done to change an outcome, people have a greater willingness to deal with dissonant information. InJanis and Feshback [ 15 ] found that extreme attempts to Seeking that certain one people into practicing good dental hygiene, by showing them pictures of mouth cancer and deformed teeth, were not very effective.

Information about possible threats creates tensions in the minds of audience members, who must in turn find some way to resolve the tension.

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If the threat is extreme, or if any potential responses are not expected to be effective, then an attractive alternative is to ignore the threat entirely, which in turn promotes consistency. A key consideration, then, is the mechanism by which people evaluate messages [ 16 ]. One unsettled issue regarding avoidance is the degree to which it is triggered by the situation that a person faced, as opposed to a trait that a person possessed permanently.

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Those with an open mind were more likely to approach new information than to avoid it [ 18 ]. Seeing avoidance as a trait found new adherents in the s, when psychologists interested in coping behaviors developed a related typology that addressed the emotional component of threatening information. Individuals who are monitors scan the environment for threats; individuals who are blunters tend to avoid threatening information or distract themselves from it [ 21 Seeking that certain one. As many as one-third of patients choose to distract themselves when faced with threats they see as uncontrollable [ 21, 22 ].

Since the s, instruments have been developed to measure coping behavior, in particular the degrees of hypothesized monitoring and blunting among patients and other subjects [ 23 — 25 ]. Recent investigations, e. More recent researchers of fear appeals e. Attempts to control danger operate in parallel with the way people manage their fears and anxiety. They may protect themselves from danger by accepting suggestions for avoiding disease, or they may obviate their fear by rejecting the advice entirely as ineffective or too difficult to carry out.

How people assess threatening messages is determined by several factors that have to do with the nature of the hazard itself, their perceptions of the effectiveness of responses to the threat response efficacyand their beliefs about their own ability to carry out effective responses self-efficacy. High anxiety coupled with feelings of low self-efficacy are likely to invoke fear-control responses like denial, anger, guilt, or hopelessness [ 1 ].

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The assumption of seeking knowledge is embedded in theories of uncertainty reduction, as several communication scholars [ 33 — 36 ] have pointed out. Their basic idea is that humans have a drive to reduce uncertainty to make the world more predictable [ 37, 38 ]. Learning facts about an issue of relevance increases certainty and thus reduces the tension created by the hypothesized drive. Much of the current information-seeking literature is still based on the centrality of uncertainty reduction.

In discussions of information seeking, uncertainty is typically tied to feelings of anxiety. So acquiring information is to be desired not merely for its instrumental value i. Reducing uncertainty helps us not only maximize future outcomes [ 21, 22 ], but also guards against emotional stress [ 39 ].

Seeking information may serve both of these functions simultaneously [ 20, 40 ]. But as Sorrentino [ 18 ] points out, much of the literature on uncertainty reduction emphasizes either the benefits particularly long-term of having new information e. Few theorists consider both costs and benefits in their examples. Problematic Integration Theory [ 41 ] and Uncertainty Management Theory [ 42, 43 ] question the assumption that humans are always reducing uncertainty. Uncertainty Management Theory, in particular, offers a more sophisticated way of explaining avoidance, because it highlights how people sometimes deliberately increase uncertainty.

To foreshadow our discussion below, two examples of the deliberate increasing of uncertainty are found in situations where a physician must deliver a threatening diagnosis to a patient.

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One party to the dyad, the physician, might choose to provide an uncertainty-increasing message in the belief that the patient is certain of bad news [ 43 ]. The patient, in turn, might avoid information to maintain uncertainty or even seek out uncertainty-increasing information [ 35 ]. In both cases, increased uncertainty might actually provide some increase in comfort for the patient, even though in a way that might compromise treatment.

Yet simply rejecting an opportunity to decrease uncertainty is probably more common than intentionally increasing it. Their refusal to ask for or accept such information from their physician often stems from a conscious decision not to place themselves in a position in which they may need to make difficult choices e. Before turning to a particular case of information avoidance to illustrate our different emphasis in information-seeking research, we will examine two models that deal explicitly with how individuals may not seek information and when they may actively avoid learning new things.


How do discussions of information seeking portray avoidance of information? The information-seeking literature—most of it concerned with practical issues regarding the stages, mechanisms, processes, channels, sources, and sometimes barriers that mediate information seeking—cites relatively few behavioral theories [ 45, 46 ].

And given that virtually all of this literature assumes that people choose to seek information, the idea of avoiding information is rarely discussed.

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The notion of avoidance more commonly appears in discussions of research models [ 1, 4, 6, 47 ]. Among these, only Johnson's and Wilson's information-seeking models explicitly discuss mechanisms whereby people may avoid information. In contrast, the other models tend to limit themselves to the selection of certain information in preference to other information.

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These motivators are affected by intervening variables of five types: psychological predispositions e. An important aspect of Wilson's model is that it explicitly recognizes avoidance behaviors in its references to psychological literature on coping and stress.

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These behaviors are invoked immediately after a need arises. Similar to Johnson's model, perceptions of self-efficacy are also related to avoidance behaviors. It contains seven factors under three headings. The ificance of the components of Johnson's model's is not obvious in its depiction but rather is explained in depth in his writings.


The concept of experience brings up issues of knowledge representation and memory too complex to consider here; suffice it to say that typically one starts out knowing something —perhaps little or a great deal—about the phenomenon of interest, as well as about the ways one can find out information about it.

Both depend on a person's degree of knowledge—or, conversely, their state of ignorance— about the topic, and both indirectly invoke the issue of avoiding information. Mere ignorance, by itself, is not typically a motivator for information seeking. People are only motivated to seek information when they both know that they are ignorant and the missing information becomes salient.

As we explore below, sometimes people prefer to be ignorant, particularly in matters of health. A confounding problem is that people sometimes believe information that turns out to be flawed. These kinds of false truths can suppress or distort information seeking. The concept of salience implies that information is not only perceived to be relevant to a need, but that it is also applicable to a person's concerns.

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Thus, salience is the key motivator in deciding to look for information [ 1 ]. If people do not believe that knowing more about a topic will allow them to effect a change, then they are not likely to seek information. Conversely, feeling that they can solve a problem will motivate them to find the means to do so—which includes information.

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As Johnson highlights [ 1 ], what information seekers Seeking that certain one concerned about is the content of the information, not the channel through which it arrives. However, people have a strong preference for information that comes directly from other people. Regarding the utility of channels, Johnson says that they are selected on the basis of their match with the seeker's needs and expectations regarding likely satisfactions to be obtained.

Johnson cites studies suggesting that ease of accessibility often wins out over authoritativeness the latter implying better utility. Johnson notes that among the more general difficulties inherent in studying the actions people take when they look for information is a distinction between active and passive acquisition.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to know whether someone has sought and found information in their environment active acquisition or, instead, been exposed to it in a public service announcement while watching television for other reasons passive acquisition. These new models of information seeking by Wilson and Johnson have explicitly addressed the issue of information avoidance, each in a different way.

Both the Wilson and Johnson models address relevant aspects of empirical findings on health-related information seeking below. This is particularly true of the Johnson model, because it has been developed with cancer information seeking in mind. Both models allow for a decision conscious or unconscious to avoid information, and both incorporate the concepts of anxiety and self-efficacy as motivating or inhibiting factors.

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Factors affecting delay were studied in patients seeking treatment for the first time for a particular symptom at clinics in a major, innercity hospital.


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