Social ranking effects on tooth-brushing behaviour

Br J Health Psychol. 2016 May;21(2):374-88. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12173. Epub 2015 Dec 12.


Objective: A tooth-brushing social rank hypothesis is tested suggesting tooth-brushing duration is influenced when individuals position their behaviour in a rank when comparing their behaviour with other individuals.

Design: Study 1 used a correlation design, Study 2 used a semi-experimental design, and Study 3 used a randomized intervention design to examine the tooth-brushing social rank hypothesis in terms of self-reported attitudes, cognitions, and behaviour towards tooth-brushing duration.

Methods: Study 1 surveyed participants to examine whether the perceived health benefits of tooth-brushing duration could be predicted from the ranking of each person's tooth-brushing duration. Study 2 tested whether manipulating the rank position of the tooth-brushing duration influenced participant-perceived health benefits of tooth-brushing duration. Study 3 used a longitudinal intervention method to examine whether messages relating to the rank positions of tooth-brushing durations causally influenced the self-report tooth-brushing duration.

Results: Study 1 demonstrates that perceptions of the health benefits from tooth-brushing duration are predicted by the perceptions of how that behaviour ranks in comparison to other people's behaviour. Study 2 demonstrates that the perceptions of the health benefits of tooth-brushing duration can be manipulated experimentally by changing the ranked position of a person's tooth-brushing duration. Study 3 experimentally demonstrates the possibility of increasing the length of time for which individuals clean their teeth by focusing on how they rank among their peers in terms of tooth-brushing duration.

Conclusions: The effectiveness of interventions using social-ranking methods relative to those that emphasize comparisons made against group averages or normative guidelines are discussed.

Statement of contribution: What is already known on this subject? Individual make judgements based on social rank information. Social rank information has been shown to influence positive health behaviours such as exercise. What does this study add? The health benefits of tooth-brushing are predicted by how tooth-brushing duration ranks within a distribution. Focussing on how teeth-cleaning duration ranks among others produces longer teeth-cleaning durations.

Keywords: hygiene; oral; rank; tooth-brushing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Peer Group*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Perception*
  • Students / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Toothbrushing / psychology*
  • Young Adult