Compensatory Health Beliefs Predict Maladaptive Coping, Impulsivity, and Erroneous Health Perceptions

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Arts and Sciences



Degree Name

Bachelor of Art in Psychology

Honors Thesis Director

Merry Sleigh

Honors Thesis Reader 1

Kathy Lyon

Honors Thesis Reader 2

Joe Prus


compensatory health beliefs, maladaptive coping, impulsivity, erroneous health perceptions


Compensatory Health Beliefs (CHB) are a common strategy used to reduce the cognitive discomfort that arises from participating in recognizably unhealthy behaviors. The current research examines relationships between CHB and other cognitive variables. Data was collected in two phases, using survey methodology. Study 1 explored relationships between the use of CHB, impulsiveness, and coping styles. Study 2 expanded the inquiry by exploring relationships to health perception and knowledge. Results revealed that participants who scored high on overall CHB were more likely to: engage in maladaptive coping strategies (r = .47, p < .01) [including avoidant coping styles (r = .38, p < .01) and unhealthy coping styles (r = .47, p < .01)], score higher on measures of impulsivity (r = .43, p < .01), be well-informed about their general health (r =-.21, p < .05), eat fast food more often ( r = p < .05), and consider it safe to smoke more frequently (r = .18, p < .05). Participants with lower CHB scores considered themselves more well-informed about their general health (r = -.21, p < .05), including understanding the minimum recommended amounts of physical activity needed to maintain health (r = -.35, p < .01 ), and knowing the health risks of stress ( r = -.19, p < .05). In addition, maladaptive coping was positively correlated with lack of general health knowledge (r = -.22 p < .01), less understanding of the risks of stress and alcohol (r = .20, p < .05), less knowledge of the recommended daily amounts of physical activity needed for health (r = -.26, p < .01), less frequent exercise (r = -.26, p < .01 ), and generally more unhealthy daily habits (r = -.26, p < .01). These findings contribute to a new area of investigation and may be useful to those who want to motivate behavior change.

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