Does heightening risk appraisals change people's intentions and behavior? A meta-analysis of experimental studies

Psychol Bull. 2014 Mar;140(2):511-43. doi: 10.1037/a0033065. Epub 2013 Jun 3.


Several theories construe risk appraisals as key determinants of decisions and actions, and this idea has been supported in correlational studies. However, correlational data cannot answer the question, "Does heightening risk appraisals change people's intentions and behavior?" The present review meta-analyzed experimental evidence in order to address this issue. We identified 4 elements of risk appraisal-risk perception, anticipatory emotion, anticipated emotion, and perceived severity-and located experiments that (a) engendered a statistically significant increase in risk appraisal among treatment compared to control participants and (b) measured subsequent intention or behavior. Heightening risk appraisals had effects of d+ = .31 (k = 217) and d+ = .23 (k = 93) on intention and behavior, respectively. There was evidence that the elements of risk appraisal combined to influence outcomes. For instance, heightening risk perceptions had larger effects on outcomes when anticipatory emotions or perceived severity was also increased. Crucially, risk appraisal effects were augmented by coping appraisals: Risk appraisals had larger effects on outcomes when response efficacy and self-efficacy were enhanced or when response costs were reduced. The largest effect sizes were observed when risk appraisals, response efficacy, and self-efficacy were simultaneously heightened (d+ = .98 and .45, for intention and behavior, respectively). These findings indicate that heightening risk appraisals changes intentions and behavior. However, the direct effects of risk appraisals were generally small. Exploiting synergies among the elements of risk appraisal, and between risk appraisals and coping appraisals, should make for more effective behavior change interventions.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Emotions*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Perception*
  • Risk
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Self Efficacy