Protection Motivation Theory and Skin Cancer Risk: The Role of Individual Differences in Responses to Persuasive Appeals


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Steven Prentice-Dunn, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama, Box 870348, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0348. E-mail:


Undergraduates who sunbathed were assessed on personality variables and then randomly assigned to read one of 4 essays (with photos) that manipulated threat and coping appraisal information about sunbathing, skin damage, and skin cancer symptoms and prevention. High threat-appraisal information was by far the most powerful predictor of intentions to take precautionary measures against skin cancer. Coping appraisal information was associated with reduced perceptions of hopelessness concerning skin cancer risk. Individual-difference variables (i.e., appearance concern, need for cognition, health locus of control) predicted maladaptive coping modes and, to a lesser extent, adaptive behavioral intentions. Results suggest that tailoring persuasive appeals to individuals may modestly improve preventive efforts, and that invoking perceived threat effectively motivates most people.