Advertisement

Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Seeking reassuring or threatening information about environmental cancer

Abstract

This study examined information seeking as a potentially adaptive response to a new environmental health threat. College students in a state with a particularly high cancer rate were offered an opportunity to obtain either a reassuring or a threatening informational message concerning the cancer rate. Interviews were later conducted with students who had and had not requested a message (N=502). The results suggested that unconcern rather than defensiveness was the principal reason for not seeking information. Although a majority of both information seekers and nonseekers preferred the threatening message, the choice of message did depend on an individual's beliefs concerning the seriousness of the cancer threat. Most respondents selected the message which supported their own view of the issue. A preliminary model proposed to explain the data emphasized the ambiguity and controversy surrounding most environmental and health warnings.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Anonymous (1967). Why people do or do not have cancer checkups.Ca: Cancer J. Clin. 17: 76–79.

  2. Becker, M. H., Drachman, R. H., and Kirscht, J. P. (1974). A new approach to explaining sick-role behavior in low income populations.Am. J. Publ. Health 64: 205–216.

  3. Biship, R. L. (1974). Anxiety and readership of health information.Journal. Q. 51: 40–46.

  4. Cobb, B., Clark, R. L., McGuire, C., and Howe, C. D. (1954). Patient-responsible delay of treatment in cancer.Cancer 7: 920–926.

  5. Davis, W. L., and Phares, E. J. (1967). Internal-external control as a determinant of information seeking in a social influence situation.J. Personal. 35: 547–561.

  6. Edwards, W. (1954). The theory of decision making.Psychol. Bull. 51: 380–417.

  7. Festinger, L. (1957).A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Row Peterson, Evanston, Ill.

  8. Fleiss, J. L. (1969). Estimating the magnitude of experimental effects.Psychol. Bull. 72: 273–276.

  9. Freedman, J. L., and Sears, D. O. (1965). Selective exposure.Adv. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 2: 57–97.

  10. Frey, D., and Wicklund, R. A. (1978). A clarification of selective exposure.J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 14: 132–139.

  11. Green, L. W. (1976). Site- and symptom-related factors in secondary prevention of cancer. In Cullen, J. W., Fox, B. H., and Isom, R. N. (eds.),Cancer: The Behavioral Dimensions, Raven Press, New York.

  12. Henderson, J. G. (1966). Denial and repression as factors in the delay of patients with cancer presenting themselves to the physician.Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 125: 856–864.

  13. Henderson, J. T., Wittkower, E. D., and Lougheed, M. N. (1958). A psychiatric investigation of the delay factor in patient to doctor presentation in cancer.J. Psychosom. Res. 3: 27–41.

  14. Janis, I. L., and Mann, L. (1976). Coping with decisional conflict.Am. Sci. 64: 657–667.

  15. Janis, I. L., and Mann, L. (1977).Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and Commitment, Free Press, New York.

  16. Kendall, M. (1970).Rank Correlation Methods, Charles Griffin, London.

  17. Kleinhesselink, R. R., and Edwards, R. E. (1975). Seeking and avoiding belief-discrepant information as a function of its perceived refutability.J. Personal Soc. Psychol. 31: 787–790.

  18. Kunreuther, H. (1976). Limited knowledge and insurance protection.Publ. Policy 24: 227–261.

  19. Maiman, L. A., and Becker, M. H. (1974). The Health Belief Model: Origins and correlates.Health Educ. Monogr. 2: 336–353.

  20. Mason, T. J., McKay, F. W., Hoover, R., Blot, W. J., and Fraumeni, Jr., J. F. (1975).Atlas of Cancer Mortality in U.S. Counties: 1950–1969, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, HEW Publication No. (NIH), 75-780, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

  21. McGuire, W. J. (1968). Selective exposure: A summing up. In Abelson, R. P., Aronson, E., McGuire, W. J., Newcomb, T. M., Rosenberg, M. J., and Tannenbaum, P. H., (eds.),Theories of Cognitive Consistency: A Sourcebook, Rand McNally, Chicago.

  22. Mirels, H. L. (1970). Dimensions of internal versus external control.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 34: 226–228.

  23. Rosenstock, I. M. (1974). The Health Belief Model and preventive health behavior.Health Educ. Monogr. 2: 354–386.

  24. Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement.Psychol. Monogr. 80 (Whole No. 609).

  25. Seeman, M. (1963). Alienation and social learning in a reformatory.Am. J. Sociol. 69: 270–284.

  26. Sjöback, H. (1973).The Psychoanalytic Theory of Defensive Processes, Wiley, New York.

  27. Slovic, P., Fischoff, B., and Lichtenstein, S. (1977). Behavioral decision theory.Ann. Rev. Psychol. 28: 1–39.

  28. Swinehart, J. W. (1968). Voluntary exposure to health communications.Am. J. Publ. Health 58: 1265–1275.

  29. Wallston, K. A., and Maides, S. (1976). Health-related information seeking as a function of health-related locus of control and health value.J. Res. Personal. 10: 215–222.

  30. Weinstein, N. D. (1978). Cognitive processes and information seeking concerning an environmental health threat.J. Hum. Stress 4: 32–41.

  31. Wicklund, R. A., and Brehm, J. W. (1976).Perspectives on Cognitive Dissonance, Erlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J.

Download references

Author information

Additional information

This research was supported by a Biomedical Research Support Grant from Rutgers — The State University and by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Weinstein, N.D. Seeking reassuring or threatening information about environmental cancer. J Behav Med 2, 125–139 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00846662

Download citation

Key words

  • cancer
  • environment
  • information seeking
  • pollution