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A Longitudinal Study of Adolescents' Optimistic Bias about Risks and Benefits of Cigarette Smoking

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Objectives: Optimistic bias, a perception that one's own risks are lower than others', can help explain why adolescents smoke cigarettes despite knowing their risks. We examined the extent and changes over time of adolescents' optimistic bias for various smoking-related perceptions of risks and benefits on the aggregate and individual level. Methods: Longitudinal study (6 measurements over 3 years) of 395 adolescents (mean age 14 years, SD=0.4, at baseline) who rated the chance of occurrence of 19 short- and long-term heath risks, social risks, addiction, and benefits related to cigarette smoking for self and comparable others. Results: Optimistic bias was consistently found only for addiction (83% of comparisons; 37%- 60% of adolescents). Addiction-related optimistic bias decreased significantly with time for "still be smoking in 5 years" (β = -2.44, p < .001) and for "become addicted" (β = -1.71, p < .001). This reduction resulted from a greater decrease in perceived risks for others rather than an increase in the adolescent's own perceived risk. For other risks and benefits, adolescents were either realistic or pessimistically biased. Conclusions: Smoking-related optimistic bias in adolescents was not as prevalent as past studies showed. Anti-smoking interventions targeting adolescents should emphasize the risk of addiction and personal relevance of addiction.
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Keywords: ADDICTION; ADOLESCENTS; OPTIMISTIC BIAS; SMOKING

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 2: Professor, Stanford University, Stanford, CA;, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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  • The American Journal of Health Behavior seeks to improve the quality of life through multidisciplinary health efforts in fostering a better understanding of the multidimensional nature of both individuals and social systems as they relate to health behaviors.

    The Journal aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the impact of personal attributes, personality characteristics, behavior patterns, social structure, and processes on health maintenance, health restoration, and health improvement; to disseminate knowledge of holistic, multidisciplinary approaches to designing and implementing effective health programs; and to showcase health behavior analysis skills that have been proven to affect health improvement and recovery.

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