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The link between judgments of comparative risk and own risk: Further evidence

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Individuals typically believe that they are less likely than the average person to experience negative events, a phenomenon termed "unrealistic optimism". The direct method of assessing unrealistic optimism employs a question of the form, "Compared with the average person, what is the chance that X will occur to you?". However, it has been proposed that responses to such a question (direct-estimates) are based essentially just on estimates that X will occur to the self (self-estimates). If this is so, any factors that affect one of these estimates should also affect the other. This prediction was tested in two experiments. In each, direct- and self-estimates for an unfamiliar health threat - homocysteine-related heart problems - were recorded. It was found that both types of estimate were affected in the same way by varying the stated probability of having unsafe levels of homocysteine (Study 1, N = 149) and varying the stated probability that unsafe levels of homocysteine will lead to heart problems (Study 2, N = 111). The results are consistent with the proposal that direct-estimates are constructed just from self-estimates.
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Keywords: Comparative risk; deleterious outcome; health threat; own risk; probability of exposure; unrealistic optimism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Deakin University, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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