Behavioral Research

Table of Contents
1 General Description & Theoretical Background

Definitions of Perceived Vulnerability in Health Behavior Theories


Measurement and Methodological Issues


Similar Constructs



6 Published Examples

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Other Constructs



Dispositional Optimism




Illness Representations

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

Perceived Vulnerability
Meg Gerrard and Amy E. Houlihan

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2 Definitions of Perceived Vulnerability in Health Behavior Theories

Perceived susceptibility is a major component of threat perception in the Health Belief Model (Rosenstock, 1966; Becker, 1974; Maiman & Becker, 1974). Specifically, this model suggests that the greater the perceived susceptibility, the greater the perceived threat, and the more likely a person will perform precautionary behaviors such as immunization. In Protection Motivation Theory (Rogers , 1983) perceived vulnerability is an important component of a process of threat appraisal, suggesting that people actively engage in a process of determining their risk. The Precaution Adoption Process (Weinstein, 1988) significantly expanded the construct by suggesting that people go through distinctly different stages of acknowledging their vulnerability, ranging from not being aware that there is a danger, to aware of the danger, to finally acknowledging that there are personally at risk.

Perceived vulnerability is also and important component of the Prototype/Willingness Model (Gibbons & Gerrard, 1995; Gibbons, Gerrard, & Lane, 2003). In this model, perceptions of vulnerability are part of a "reasoned" path to risk behavior reflecting the fact that some people who engage in risk behaviors acknowledge their vulnerability to the negative consequences of these behaviors (Gerrard, Gibbons, Benthin, & Hessling 1996). In contrast, it is not part of the "social reaction" path to risk behavior (Gerrard, Gibbons, Reis-Bergan, Trudeau, Vande Lune, & Buunk, 2002).

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