People tend to act differently when their health is threatened.

These differences have been attempted to be explained by various theories within health psychology. Today we will know one of them, Rogers’ theory of protection motivation .

The theory is that people can perform many effective and low-cost behaviors to reduce their risk of disease. But what does it depend on whether or not we perform such behaviors? We’ll look at that below.

Health Psychology

The term health psychology was first proposed by Matarazzo in 1982, who defines this discipline as a set of contributions from education, science and psychology, which aim to promote and maintain health, as well as prevent and treat disease.

To maintain or improve health, people put into practice health behaviours (e.g. stop smoking, walk 30 min. a day,…).

We will analyze the components of the theory of protection motivation that make possible the execution of such conducts.

The theory of protection motivation

The theory of protection motivation was raised in 1975 by R. W. Rogers, and reformulated in 1987 by Rippetoe and Rogers. The theory proposes the protection motivation variable to explain health behaviours .

In this way, motivation is what drives the behavioural coping process and ultimately triggers the behaviour (Umeh, 2004; Milne et al., 2002).

More specifically, in order for health behaviour to be triggered, a behaviour of concern must first be manifested. This, in turn, will arise from the combination of two elements that we will see below. From these two assessments will emerge the motivation to act, which will guide the coping response to finally manifest the behavior.

1. Threat assessment

Fear of illness or harm predisposes you to act (for example, when you are smoking and coughing a lot).

In turn, this element is composed of the perception of severity (the possible harm to be suffered) and susceptibility (the level of risk a person is at), in addition to the intrinsic benefits of risk behavior.

2. Assessment of coping behaviour

It is the probability of success perceived by the person, that is, the perception that his or her response will be effective in reducing the threat, as well as the perception of self-efficacy (the person will be able to take preventive measures).

These variables will provide in the person a perspective on the costs and benefits of executing the behavior .

How do you get to health behavior?

The cognitive responses that are triggered by these two assessments, will be added to the person’s belief system .

The result will be that the latter will end up generating adaptive or maladaptive responses, depending on whether it finds a degree of relationship between the threat and the preventive behavior (that is, whether or not it believes that the threat will be reduced by its behavior).

In the context in which the person is and where he or she interacts, there are a series of facilitators or inhibitors, which will mediate such behaviours .

Assessment of coping behaviour

The most important aspect of the theory of protection motivation is the evaluation that the person makes of his/her coping behaviour , already mentioned.

Thus, a positive evaluation (believing that he or she will be able to execute the behavior and that it will reduce the risk of illness) will motivate the person to take actions that will benefit his or her health.

Examples of this may be avoiding alcohol or cigarettes, exercising , taking less sugars, etc.

Applications: the health field

The theory of protection motivation has been studied in medicine. For example, a paper by Milne et al (2002) highlighted the importance of motivation in predicting behavioural intent in the care and prevention of coronary heart disease, although it is not the only variable involved.

The intentionality of the behaviour also is key to increasing adherence to treatments , for example in the case of children with illnesses.

However, not every time a person is afraid of a threat to his or her health, it triggers preventive behavior. For this to happen, there must also be a positive assessment of the coping behaviour, i.e. a belief that the behaviour will be effective.

In addition, the intentionality of the behaviour is necessary, but not always sufficient since, as we have seen, other variables are often involved.

These variables modulate this intention. Some of them are whether or not we have the opportunity to carry out the behavior, the information we have, the will power or the ability to maintain motivation.

Bibliographic references:

  • Milne, Sarah et al. (2002). Combining motivational and volitional interventions to promote exercise participation: Protection motivation theory and implementation intentions.British Journal of Health Psychology, n.7.pp.163-184.
  • Umeh, Kanayo. (2004). Cognitive Appraisals, Maladaptive Coping, And Past Behaviour In Protection Motivation. Psychology and Health, V.19, n 6, pp.719-735. London.
  • Salamanca, A. and Giraldo, C. (2012). Cognitive and cognitive social models in prevention and health promotion. Vanguardia Psicológica Journal, 2(2), 185-202.