Comparative risk estimates relative to the average peer predict behavioral intentions and concern about absolute risk
a1 Department of Psychology, Colby College, Waterville, ME 04901, USA. Tel: (207) 872–3183. Fax: (207) 872–3096. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This study explored whether comparisons of one's perceived absolute risk of being overweight to that of other people are predictive of concern about one's risk and intentions to reduce it. One hundred and six North American college students rated their absolute risk, concern, and intentions, and compared their risk with that of several comparison referents including average targets (e.g., ‘the average same-sex student in the US’), single targets (e.g., ‘best friend’), temporal targets (e.g., ‘yourself a few years ago’), and exemplar targets (e.g., ‘prototypical person with weight problem’). Participants showed high concern and intentions when comparing unfavorably with many of the average targets, even when controlling for absolute risk. Comparisons with single targets were generally related to concern, though not to intentions. Temporal and exemplar comparisons were unrelated to concern and intentions. Comparative risk (particularly with average targets) may elicit worry about one's risk and encourage protective measures, irrespective of one's absolute risk.