The Social Psychology of Tanning and Sunscreen Use: Self-Presentational Motives as a Predictor of Health Risk1


  • 1

    The authors wish to thank Janice Templeton and Cindy Creps for their contributions to this research, and Robin Kowalski for her comments on an earlier draft on the manuscript. This study was completed while the second author was at Wake Forest University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mark R. Leary, Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27109.


To the extent that many people seek and maintain a suntan because they believe it makes them more attractive, people who are particularly motivated to make good impressions on others or to be seen as physically attractive are at increased risk for skin cancer. This study examined cognitive, motivational, and attitudinal predictors of two factors that are associated with increased risk for skin cancer: engaging in behaviors that increase one's exposure to UV radiation and inadequate use of sunscreen. Self-presentational motives involving a concern for one's personal appearance and the belief that being tan enhances one's attractiveness were the strongest predictors of the degree to which respondents exposed themselves to natural and artificial sources of UV radiation. Sunscreen use was best predicted by knowing someone with skin cancer. Implications for attempts to promote safe-sun practices are discussed.