We’re often told that worrying can be harmful to one’s health. But University at Buffalo researchers say that when it comes to preventing skin cancer, a little fear is good for you.
In a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, the UB researchers found that fear and worry about skin cancer had a bigger influence on people’s use of sunscreen than information about the statistical likelihood of developing the disease.
“Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior.
“This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we’re potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions don’t address feelings.”
Kiviniemi’s study analyzed data from a nationwide study conducted by the National Cancer Institute. Nearly 1,500 randomly selected participants with no personal history of skin cancer were asked about their sunscreen use, and questioned to gauge their perceived risk and worry for getting skin cancer.
Frequency of sunscreen use varied, with 32 percent reporting ‘‘never’’ using it, and 14 percent ‘‘always’’ using it. Education was associated with increased sunscreen use and men and non-White participants were both less likely to use sunscreen.
In each case, however, worry more directly influenced people’s behavior than informational findings, and increasing degrees of worry were associated with increased sunscreen use.
“Our research looked at the interplay of emotions and facts in decision making– that is, how do cognitive and affective risks jointly work to influence behavior?” says Kiviniemi. “The nature of their interrelation as an influence on behavior has not been examined until this study.”
UB researchers say that affective risk – fear and worry about a health issue, in this case skin cancer – and cognitive risk – the informational component – are both known influences on people’s health behaviors.
However, they are often treated separately or are pitted against one another as “rational” versus “irrational” influences, says Kiviniemi.
“These findings show that clinicians might want to think more about feelings when encouraging people to use sunscreen,” says Kiviniemi. “In addition to providing educational information about risk, encouraging people to consider how they feel about cancer and how worried they are about it might inspire preventive behaviors.”
While ultimately public health professionals can use the results to design better intervention tools, researchers are still a few steps away from understanding how to shape fear so that it is beneficial, rather than paralyzing, adds Kiviniemi.
Kiviniemi will conduct further research to examine the same relationship between risk perception and behavior in other types of health behaviors, such as colonoscopy screening and condom use.
Media Contact Information
Media Relations Assistant
Marcene Robinson | Eurek Alert!
Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s
26.11.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Network analysis shows systemic risk in mineral markets
16.11.2015 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...
25.11.2015 | Event News
17.11.2015 | Event News
21.10.2015 | Event News
27.11.2015 | Press release
27.11.2015 | Life Sciences
27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences