Use of correlational data to examine the effects of risk perceptions on precautionary behavior

Neil D. Weinstein, Alexander J. Rothman, Mark Nicolich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations

Abstract

The idea that perceptions of high personal risk lead people to adopt precautionary behavior (the "motivational hypothesis") is mainly tested with correlational data. A review of studies from selective journals reveals a high proportion with methodological and conceptual problems that make them invalid as tests of this hypothesis. Three problems are emphasized: (1) the misinterpretation of correlations from cross-sectional studies as testing the motivational hypothesis when they actually indicate the accuracy of risk perceptions; (2) the failure to control for prior behavior in prospective studies; and (3) the use of prospective studies in situations of little behavior change. Path models are used to help explain these problems. Recommendations for selecting research designs and for calculating the least problematic correlations are given, along with warnings about the many assumptions needed to interpret even these correlations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-501
Number of pages23
JournalPsychology and Health
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998

Keywords

  • Data analysis
  • Health behavior
  • Precautions
  • Research design
  • Risk perceptions

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