Background: Although there is growing theoretical and empirical support for the proposition that media exposure to conflicting health information negatively influences public understanding and behavior, few studies have causally linked exposure to conflict with undesirable outcomes. Such outcomes might be particularly likely in the context of mammography, given widespread media attention to conflicting recommendations about the age at and frequency with which average-risk women should be screened for breast cancer. Purpose: The current study tests whether exposure to conflicting information about mammography negatively influences women's affective and cognitive responses and examines whether effects vary by socioeconomic position. Methods: We conducted an online survey experiment in 2016 with a population-based sample of U.S. women aged 35-55 (N = 1,474). Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions that differed in the level of conflict about mammography presented in a news story (no, low, medium, or high conflict), stratifying by poverty level. Results: Greater exposure to conflict increased women's negative emotional responses to the story they read, their confusion about and backlash toward cancer prevention recommendations and research, and their ambivalence about mammography and other types of cancer screening, though ambivalence leveled off at high levels of exposure. There was little evidence that effects varied across socioeconomic position. Conclusions: Findings add to the growing evidence base documenting undesirable outcomes of exposure to conflicting health information. Future research should examine whether the negative affective and cognitive responses observed translate into behavior, which could have implications for both health campaigns and patient-provider communication.
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© 2018 Society of Behavioral Medicine 2018. All rights reserved.
- Conflicting health information
- Health communication
- Population-based survey experiment
- Socioeconomic position