Behavioral Research

Table of Contents
1 Definition and History
2

Measurement and Methodological Issues

3

Utility of Construct

4

Related Constructs

5

References

6

Measures Appendix

7 Published Examples

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Other Constructs
 

Barriers

 

Dispositional Optimism

 

Environments

 

Illness Representations

  Implementation Intentions
  Intention, Expectation, and Willingness
  Normative Beliefs
  Optimistic Bias
  Perceived Benefits
  Perceived Control
  Perceived Severity
  Perceived Vulnerability
  Self-Efficacy
  Self-Reported Behavior
  Social Influence
  Social Support
  Stages
  Worry

Optimistic Bias
William M. P. Klein

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3

Utility of Construct

Most research has investigated optimistic biases at the group level, which has been sufficient given the predominant focus on which types of events, comparative targets, and other factors elicit the most bias. However, in order to establish the utility of this construct in the domain of health, it is necessary to measure optimistic bias at the level of the individual. Given the difficulties of doing so, research taking this approach is in its infancy. For the most part, the evidence so far suggests that optimistic biases may be harmful.

Several studies show that optimistically biased individuals know less about health threats (Radcliffe & Klein, 2002), are less attentive and more defensive in response to new health information (Avis, Smith, & McKinlay, 1989; Radcliffe & Klein, 2002; Wiebe & Black, 1997), and endorse myths such as the notion that lung cancer risk is influenced substantially more by genetics than by smoking (Dillard, McCaul, & Klein, 2005). These studies typically control for obvious confounds such as educational level. Other studies have shown that optimistically biased individuals may have higher risk factors for disease such as smoking (Strecher, Kreuter, & Kobrin, 1995) and high cholesterol (Radcliffe & Klein, 2002).

Perhaps most importantly, many studies show that optimistically biased individuals engage in more risk-increasing behaviors such as unprotected sexual intercourse (Burger & Burns, 1988) and alcohol abuse (Klein et al., 2005); one study using a national sample found that optimistically biased smokers were less likely to intend to quit (Dillard et al., 2005). Importantly, one study showed that HIV seropositive individuals who were optimistically biased about their AIDS risk engaged in more health-protective behaviors (Taylor et al., 1992), suggesting again that there may be several other factors that determine whether optimistic biases lead to risk-increasing or risk-decreasing behavior. For example, optimistic biases may be more adaptive when health outcomes are reversible, and when the individuals are already coping with a medical problem (Klein & Steers-Wentzell, in press). Importantly, most of these studies are correlational, making it difficult to pinpoint optimistically biased risk perceptions as a direct cause of behavior.

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