Perceived Risk of a Disease Increases the Desire to Take Action

The hypothetical risk of illness is enough of a motivating factor for people to take action, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The hypothetical risk of illness is enough of a motivating factor for people to take action, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Co-authors Rene Almeling, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University, and Shana Kushner Gadarian, assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, asked participants to imagine they faced a genetic risk for a disease and assessed who wanted to take what kind of actions in response.

“Medical sociologists contend that we are living in an era of surveillance medicine, in which the emphasis on risk blurs the lines between health and disease,” the authors contended.

Participants were randomly assigned a level of risk and a disease: heart disease, colon cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease. The authors found that as the level of risk increased from 20% to 80%, people were more likely to want to take action of all kinds, including seeking information about the disease, taking medications or undergoing surgery to manage the risk, and organizing finances.

“Social scientists have argued that we are now treating risk as if it were a disease, and these results provide strong evidence for that claim,” Dr Almeling said in a statement.

The researchers also asked the participants if they have a family member or close friend with their assigned disease, and were surprised to discover personal experience with the disease did not make a difference. According to the research, people responded to the hypothetical risk of disease by wanting to take action regardless of whether or not they have seen the disease up close.

“It is extremely important for social scientists and clinicians to understand how people respond to these risk numbers and how they are being used to make important life decisions,” Dr Almeling said. She added, “Studies like this can aid healthcare providers in offering genetic information with sufficient context to insure that people make the best decisions for themselves.”

According to the researchers, the across-the-board desire to take action in response to hypothetical risk information suggests that everyone is a “patient-in-waiting.”