Communication strategies for enhancing understanding of the behavioral implications of genetic and biomarker tests for disease risk: the role of coherence

Linda D. Cameron*, Theresa M. Marteau, Paul M. Brown, William M P Klein, Kerry A. Sherman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    59 Citations (Scopus)


    Individuals frequently have difficulty understanding how behavior can reduce genetically-conferred risk for diseases such as colon cancer. With increasing opportunities to purchase genetic tests, communication strategies are needed for presenting information in ways that optimize comprehension and adaptive behavior. Using the Common-Sense Model, we tested the efficacy of a strategy for providing information about the relationships (links) among the physiological processes underlying disease risk and protective action on understanding, protective action motivations, and willingness to purchase tests. We tested the generalizability of the strategy's effects across varying risk levels, for genetic tests versus tests of a nongenetic biomarker, and when using graphic and numeric risk formats. In an internet-based experiment, 749 adults from four countries responded to messages about a hypothetical test for colon cancer risk. Messages varied by Risk-Action Link Information (provision or no provision of information describing how a low-fat diet reduces risk given positive results, indicating presence of a gene fault), Risk Increment (20%, 50%, or 80% risk given positive results), Risk Format (numeric or graphic presentation of risk increments), and Test Type (genetic or enzyme). Providing risk-action link information enhanced beliefs of coherence (understanding how a low-fat diet reduces risk) and response efficacy (low-fat diets effectively reduce risk) and lowered appraisals of anticipated risk of colon cancer given positive results. These effects held across risk increments, risk formats, and test types. For genetic tests, provision of risk-action link information reduced the amount individuals were willing to pay for testing. Brief messages explaining how action can reduce genetic and biomarker-detected risks can promote beliefs motivating protective action. By enhancing understanding of behavioral control, they may reduce the perceived value of genetic risk information.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)286-298
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


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