Mental Representation in Health and Illness

Part of the series Contributions to Psychology and Medicine pp 85-107

Psychological Reactions to Risk Factor Testing

  • Robert T. Croyle
  • , John B. JemmottIII

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How do individuals react when told they have a risk factor for a disease? This is the central question addressed in this chapter. “Risk factor” is defined broadly as any event or characteristic associated with increased probability of disease. Risk factors that have been associated with increased risk of disease include specific health behaviors, genetic factors, radiation exposure, age, and ethnic group. Risk factor testing involves the measurement of one or more physical signs that indicate an individual’s heightened risk relative to individuals who do not show the same sign. Two common examples are blood pressure and cholesterol tests. Each year thousands of individuals are tested for these and other risk factors. A major effort is under way within preventive medicine to develop additional screening procedures for risk factors and early signs of disease. But despite the proliferation of risk factor testing, we know surprisingly little about the psychological impact of these tests.