On the origin of worries about modern health hazards: Experimental evidence for a conjoint influence of media reports and personality traits

Michael Witthöft*, Ina Freitag, Christiane Nußbaum, Anne Kathrin Bräscher, Fabian Jasper, Josef Bailer, G. James Rubin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
466 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Objective: Worries about health threatening effects of potential health hazards of modern life (e.g. electric devices and pollution) represent a growing phenomenon in Western countries. Yet, little is known about the causes of this growing special case of affective risk perceptions termed Modern Health Worries (MHW). The purpose of this study is to examine a possible role of biased media reports in the formation of MHW. Design: In two experiments, we investigated whether typical television reports affect MHW. In Study 1, 130 participants were randomly assigned to a film on idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI) or a control film about cystic fibrosis. In Study 2, 82 participants were randomly assigned to either a film on the dangers of electromagnetic fields or a control condition. Main outcome measures: Increases in MHW after sensational media reports. Results: In Study 1, only participants high on the personality trait of absorption revealed increased MHW after watching the IEI film. In Study 2, specifically worries about radiation were found to be elevated after watching the film on the dangers of electromagnetic fields compared to the control film. Conclusion: The results of both studies reveal a significant and specific influence of sensational short mass media reports on MHW. The influence of potential moderators such as absorption remains to be clarified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPsychology & health
Early online date31 Jul 2017
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2017

Keywords

  • absorption
  • electrosensitivity
  • idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI)
  • idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF)
  • modern health worries (MHW)

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