Resistance of personal risk perceptions to debiasing interventions

Health Psychol. 1995 Mar;14(2):132-40. doi: 10.1037//0278-6133.14.2.132.


The tendency to believe that one's own risk is less than that of others may reduce interest in health-protective behaviors. This article describes 4 attempts to reduce such optimistic biases. In Study 1, New Jersey residents (N = 222) were provided with lists of risk factors for several health problems. This manipulation was strengthened in Study 2 by presenting risk factors in such a way that participants (164 undergraduates) might see their own standing as inferior to that of others. In Study 3, risk factors were presented one at a time, and participants (190 undergraduates) incorporated them into a mental image of a high-risk individual. Finally, 374 undergraduates in Study 4 generated lists of personal attributes that they believed increased their risk. Optimistic biases were found in each study, but none of the manipulations reduced these biases consistently. In contrast, conditions using opposite manipulations often exacerbated the biases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / prevention & control
  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology
  • Adult
  • Defense Mechanisms*
  • Denial, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Myocardial Infarction / prevention & control
  • Myocardial Infarction / psychology
  • Radiation Injuries / prevention & control
  • Radiation Injuries / psychology
  • Radon / adverse effects
  • Risk-Taking*


  • Radon