People Are Weird: Compensatory Health Beliefs

I am a 3rd Year Psychology and Counselling student, and throughout my course, listening to lecturers and searching through the research databases at my fingertips, I come across some weird, interesting, and relatable psychology. So why not share it with everyone! Is this just an excuse for me to write about more stuff that I’m interested in? Maybe. Is this a way to motivate me to actually get my work done? Let’s hope so!


To start off I’m going to talk about Compensatory Health Beliefs. Now yes, for those of you that know me, this is what my dissertation is all about, so this is probably way more interesting to me than for most people. But I bet a good majority of you are guilty of doing this! So what are they, why do they happen, and what can you do about them…

Compensatory Health Beliefs (or CHB’s for short) occur when we are faced with a temptation that just seems too good. That slice of cake you’ve got saved in the fridge is calling you (although let’s be real, there’s a giant trifle in there with your name on it) and your stomach is rumbling, but you feel conflicted because you really should be watching what you eat. What do you do? According to Rabiau, Knäuper, and Miquelon (2006), the CHB model states you can take 1 of 3 options. You either have an iron-strong will and resist the desire, change your perception of the risk you take when indulging in the desire (e.g ‘eating that piece of cake isn’t going to be that bad’), or you activate a CHB.


A CHB is when you allow yourself to give into the temptation, with the intention to compensate for it later on with a healthy behaviour. So taking the cake example, you eat the slice of cake, enjoying every last morsel of it, saying to yourself that ‘It’s ok because I’m going to work it off at the gym later’. Now whether you actually go to the gym is another thing entirely, and that all depends on your actual intentions to do the behaviour, and how well you believe in your abilities to achieve the goals you set out to accomplish (i.e. self-efficacy).

The problem is that in a lot of cases, when someone uses a CHB to try and balance out the good with the bad, engaging in the compensating behaviour doesn’t happen 100% of the time, and even when it does happen, the good behaviour doesn’t necessarily do anything to counteract the bad behaviour. So what can be done?


As the model is quite new, there is not a lot of research on telling people how to combat these thoughts, especially when you consider that everyone is different, and everyone does have their own vices (mine amongst other things being cake, if you couldn’t already have guessed). However, the model does suggest that self-efficacy is one of the contributing factors to whether we give into temptation, and so training yourself to be more disciplined, and believing in yourself and your abilities to achieve the goals you have, will help. On a grander scale it is down to governing bodies to educate people on accurate and achievable health standards, so that there is less confusion as to what good can be done about the bad.

For those psychologists out there that want to read more, the reference is…

Rabiau, M., Knäuper, B., & Miquelon, P. (2006). The eternal quest for optimal balance between maximizing pleasure and minimizing harm: The compensatory health beliefs model. British Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 139-153. 


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About Drew 34 Articles
• MSc Health Psychology post-grad student, and BSc Psychology and Counselling Graduate • Appreciator of good food, a makeup enthusiast, and lover of all things that sparkle • A massive nerd aspiring to become a chartered psychologist (Dr. Keating sounds good right?!) • Proud member of the LGBT+ community, with a desire to educate and help others as best I can

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