Health-Related Risk Perception and Decision-Making: Lessons from the Study of Motives in Social Psychology



Much research in the decision sciences has shown that risk perception and decision-making are influenced not only by cognitive processes – such as the use of statistical ‘rules of thumb’– but also by motives such as loss aversion, ambiguity aversion, and regret aversion. The field of social psychology has long been interested in a variety of motives that influence self-judgment, social perception, and interpersonal relations. These include, among others, self-enhancement, social comparison, predictability/control, favorable self-presentation, effective resource management, preparedness for bad news, goal attainment, and existential meaning. We suggest that more attention to these motives would greatly strengthen our understanding of how people think about risk and how they make decisions. In this article, we consider the influence of motives on risk perception and decision-making in the context of health outcomes. We argue that theories relating to these various motives (e.g., social comparison theory) can be greatly enhanced by testing them in the context of health-related risk perception and decision-making.