The role of powerful audiences in health information avoidance

Soc Sci Med. 2019 Jan:220:430-439. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.11.037. Epub 2018 Dec 1.


Background: Although people may want to learn information, concerns about how audiences (persons or entities privy to one's behavior or information) might respond may motivate people to avoid information that audiences could use to threaten resources or harm them.

Purpose: We examined whether powerful audiences prompt health risk information avoidance.

Methods: We tested in two studies (N = 843 adults 25 and older, 75% White) the influence of different audiences on medical information avoidance. We manipulated the audience and examined the consequences for avoidance of health risk information.

Results: Participants avoided personal health risk information significantly more when they believed that a powerful audience (an employer or insurance company) might learn their results from a health risk test than when they believed a non-powerful audience (health researchers) might learn their results. Exploratory mediation analyses revealed that these effects were partially mediated by participant expectations of likelihood of powerful audience harm.

Conclusions: Results suggest that people may choose to remain ignorant of potentially important health risks if they believe that powerful audiences can use that information to harm them.

Keywords: Audience effects; Decision-making; Deliberate ignorance; Information avoidance.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Records, Personal / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Risk