"If I'm better than average, then I'm ok?": Comparative information influences beliefs about risk and benefits

Patient Educ Couns. 2007 Dec;69(1-3):140-4. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.08.008. Epub 2007 Oct 17.


Objective: To test whether providing comparative risk information changes risk perceptions.

Methods: Two hundred and forty-nine female visitors to a hospital cafeteria were randomized to one of two conditions which differed in whether their hypothetical breast cancer risks was lower or higher than the average women's. Participants read a scenario describing a breast cancer prevention pill and indicated their: (1) likelihood of taking the pill and (2) perception of whether the pill provides breast cancer risk reduction.

Results: Women told that their hypothetical risk of breast cancer was above average were more likely to endorse taking the pill (2.79 vs. 2.23, F=4.95, p=0.002) and more likely to believe that the pill provided a significant risk reduction in breast cancer (3.15 vs. 2.73, F=4.32, p=0.005), even though the risks were equivalent.

Conclusions: Providing people with comparative risk information changes their risk perceptions. People who have above average risk may feel compelled to take a treatment because they are at above average risk and therefore may not thoroughly consider the trade-offs in the risks and benefits of treatment.

Practice implications: Physicians and decision aid developers must reconsider the practice of communicating "average risk" information to patients.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Drug Therapy / psychology
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Women's Health
  • Women* / education
  • Women* / psychology