Selective memory biases in individuals' memory for health-related information and behavior recommendations

Marc T. Kiviniemi, Alexander J. Rothman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Behavior change is central to both prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases. Frequently, however, individuals do not initiate the behavior change recommendations suggested by health professionals. One explanation for low rates of compliance with such recommendations may be selective memory biases in favor of information supporting the idea that one is healthy. Two studies examined whether memory for health information would be biased by preexisting health beliefs. In the first study (N=113), individuals' attitudes about the value of alcohol consumption influenced their memory for pro- versus anti-alcohol information. Participants showed better memory for information supporting their attitudes. In Study 2 (N=50), memory for behavioral recommendations depended on participants' behavioral practices. Participants displayed better memory for behavioral recommendations consistent with the idea that they were healthy than for recommendations which challenged those beliefs. These findings illustrate an additional manner in which selective processing can affect health promotion efforts, suggest that a motivation to maintain existing health beliefs may underlie the memory differences, and demonstrate that there may be value in developing efforts to ensure that people remember potentially threatening health recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-272
Number of pages26
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Individual's memory
  • Memory bias
  • Selective processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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