Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news

March 05, 2019

To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health. That's one takeaway from a study that found older adults are more willing to engage with negative health information when they have a positive attitude about their health.

"There's a lot of research showing that older adults prefer positive information, often avoiding or ignoring negative information," says Tom Hess, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-author of a paper on the new findings. "That can have consequences for older adults, particularly when it comes to information regarding their health. We wanted to see if there was a way to overcome this positivity bias when it comes to health news."

To that end, the researchers conducted a study of 196 adults between the ages of 65 and 80. A quarter of the study participants were shown images to put them in a negative mood. A quarter were shown images to put them in a positive mood. A quarter were asked to complete a health checklist designed to make them feel bad about the healthiness of their lifestyle choices. And a quarter were asked to complete a checklist designed to make them feel good about their lifestyle choices.

Study participants were then shown the headlines of six articles about health. Three of the headlines were negative, but offered information relevant to the health of the study participants. The other three headlines were positive, but were less likely to provide participants with useful information. Participants were asked to pick any three of the six articles to read.

Study participants who completed the "positive" health checklist read more than 50 percent more of the articles that had negative headlines, as compared to participants who completed the "negative" checklist.

"Specifically, study participants who completed the checklist giving them a positive attitude toward their health chose to read, on average, about 60 percent of the negative articles, whereas participants who completed the negative checklist chose only 37 percent of the negative articles," says Claire Growney, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. "There was no effect for participants who did not complete the health checklist and whose moods were only influenced by images. We also ran the same study with a group of 201 younger adults, and there was no effect with any of the groups there. This tells us that having a positive attitude toward health may primarily affect the willingness of older adults to engage with negative health news.

"We also asked the study participants what their motivations were before reviewing the health articles, and found that older adults with positive attitudes toward their health were more likely to seek out health-related news that was relevant to their own lives."

To confirm the finding, the researchers repeated the study with 199 adults between the ages of 65 and 85. This time they focused solely on the negative and positive health checklists. One difference with this second study was that the health article headlines were split into four categories: positive and informative; negative and informative; positive and not informative; and negative and not informative.

"In this second study, we found participants who completed the positive checklist were over 30 percent more likely to select articles with negative headlines to read - but only if the headlines were also informative," Growney says. "Specifically, the group with positive attitudes toward their health again chose to read about 60 percent of the negative/informative articles, while the group with negative attitudes toward their health chose only about 40 percent of the negative/informative articles."

"These findings have practical value in terms of how we share negative information with older adults regarding their health," Hess says. "For example, it may be useful for a health care provider to say 'here's what looks good' before talking to a patient about recommendations regarding diet or exercise."
-end-
The paper, "The Influence of Mood Versus Relevant Self-Perceptions in Older Adults' Interest in Negative Health-Related Information," is published in the journal Psychology and Aging. The work was done with support from the National Institute on Aging under grant number AG05552.

North Carolina State University

Related Health Articles from Brightsurf:

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs
Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in health care spending in the US in 2016, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health.

New measure of social determinants of health may improve cardiovascular health assessment
The authors of this study developed a single risk score derived from multiple social determinants of health that predicts county-level cardiovascular disease mortality.

BU study: High deductible health plans are widening racial health gaps
The growing Black Lives Matter movement has brought more attention to the myriad structures that reinforce racial inequities, in everything from policing to hiring to maternal mortality.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-health resource improves men's health behaviours with or without fitness facilities
Men who regularly used a free web resource made significantly more health changes than men who did not, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia and Intensions Consulting.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.

Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.

Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.

Read More: Health News and Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.