A heuristics approach to understanding cancer risk perception: contributions from judgment and decision-making research

Ann Behav Med. 2006 Feb;31(1):45-52. doi: 10.1207/s15324796abm3101_8.


Background: The likelihood judgments that people make about their risks for cancer have important implications. At the individual level, risk estimates guide protective actions, such as cancer screening. However, at the extremes, exaggerated risk judgments can also lead to anxiety that degrades quality of life or to aggressive self-protective actions that are unwarranted given the objective risks. At the policy level, risk judgments may serve as an indicator of societal perceptions of the "war" against cancer. Using risk judgments, the public expresses its belief about whether we are winning.

Purpose: We present theoretical perspectives from judgment and decision making, illustrate how they can explain some of the existing empirical findings in the cancer risk literature, and describe additional predictions that have not yet been tested.

Conclusions: Overall, we suggest that theories from the judgment and decision-making perspective offer a potentially powerful view for understanding and improving risk judgments for cancer and other diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Neoplasms*
  • Risk Factors