Illness risk representations and motivations to engage in protective behavior: the case of skin cancer risk

Psychol Health. 2008;23(1):91-112. doi: 10.1080/14768320701342383.


This study evaluates the contents of representations of skin cancer risk and their associations with risk appraisals, worry, and protection intentions and behaviors. The Assessment of Illness Risk Representations (AIRR) was used to measure conceptual and imagery contents of risk representations, as delineated by the Common-Sense Model. University students (N = 120) completed the AIRR; measures of likelihood and severity appraisals, and worry; and measures of skin self-examination, clinical skin examination, and sun protection intentions and behaviors. Beliefs about identity, causal, and timeline risk were positively associated with likelihood appraisals, whereas consequences and timeline risk beliefs were positively associated with severity appraisals. Identity and timeline risk independently predicted worry. Representational attributes, including imagery vividness and valence, independently predicted intentions and behaviors, whereas likelihood and severity appraisals did not. Symptom imagery interacted with worry to predict detection and prevention intentions: worry predicted greater intentions for participants with symptom imagery but not for those without symptom imagery. The findings support the utility of the AIRR for assessing risk representations and identify ways in which risk representations may guide protective behavior.

Keywords: Risk perception; cancer; health behavior; illness representations; skin cancer.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Skin Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Young Adult