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Seeking reassuring or threatening information about environmental cancer


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.

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

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Weinstein, N.D. Seeking reassuring or threatening information about environmental cancer. J Behav Med 2, 125–139 (1979).

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Key words

  • cancer
  • environment
  • information seeking
  • pollution