Most health decision-making models posit that cost-benefit analyses underlie decisions to make changes in health-related behavioral practices. In a series of studies, participants imagined either increasing or decreasing the frequency of a variety of health behaviors and estimated the consequences of those changes. In Studies 1 and 2, individuals consistently estimated that increasing a health behavior produced greater consequences than did decreasing the behavior by an equivalent amount. The results of Study 3 demonstrated that this effect is due to differences in how individuals judge the impact of health behavior changes which involve not engaging in the behavior at all versus other types of changes. Taken together, these findings suggest that perceptions of the outcomes afforded by health behavior changes depend on both the behavioral frequency and direction of changes in behavior an individual is considering. This asymmetry has the potential to help explain patterns of behavior in a range of important health domains and may impact the effectiveness of behavior change interventions.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Preparation of this article was supported by National Cancer Institute Grant 1K07CA106225 to the first author. The authors thank Jennifer Douglas for her assistance with Studies 1 and 2 and the Rothman Lab Group at the University of Minnesota for their helpful comments on previous versions of this manuscript. Portions of this research were presented at the 1998 meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association and the 2002 Nebraska Symposium on Motivation.
- Close-response asymmetry
- Health behaviour
- Health decision-making models