The impact of personal and social comparison information about health risk

David P. French, Stephen R. Sutton, Theresa M. Marteau, Ann Louise Kinmonth

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Objectives: To examine the emotional and cognitive impact of personal and social comparison information about health risk. Methods: A total of 970 adults responded to vignettes describing risk presentation scenarios that varied in terms of having (a) a 'real world' analogue (cardiac event) versus no such analogue (a fictitious pancreatic disease) condition, (b) high versus low levels of personal risk, and (c) no comparison group information given, comparison group risk higher or lower than own risk. Results: For both the cardiac and pancreatic disease vignettes, respondents' emotional responses and estimates of their own risk were influenced by both personal and social comparison risk information. The cardiac event vignettes produced larger effects than the pancreatic disease vignettes. Unfavourable social comparison information had no discernible impact, relative to not providing any social comparison information. Favourable social comparison information resulted in greater reassurance, less worry, and perceptions of lower susceptibility. Lower personal risk generally produced similar effects, relative to higher personal risk. Conclusions: In contrast to previous theory and research in this area, we found that both personal and (favourable) social comparison risk information have emotional and cognitive consequences. We hypothesize that the perceived clarity of the information may account for the different patterns of findings in the literature.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)187-200
    Number of pages13
    JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
    Volume9
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - May 2004

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