Title

Subjective Expected Utility of Health-Risk Behaviors

Date of Award

1997

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

William C. Goggin

Advisor Department

Psychology

Abstract

This study focused on the health-risk behaviors of alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, and high-risk sexual behavior within the theoretical perspective of Subjective Expected Utility (SEU, Edwards, 1954). SEU is a measure of an individual's assessment of the probability of a consequence's occurring, multiplied by the desirability of various outcomes as a result of engaging in a specific behavior. It was the purpose of this study to replicate and expand previous research (Bauman & Bryan, 1980) in this area. The study was conducted in the fall and spring semesters of 1995-1996 at the University of Southern Mississippi. The sample included 156 undergraduate psychology students who completed a self-report questionnaire. The questionnaire assessed demographics, health-risk behaviors, and the SEU of the three health-risk behaviors. SEU was assessed by using a list of 40 consequences taken from a series of Bauman and associates' previous studies that examined health-risk behaviors. These consequences were developed through pilot studies designed to identify possible outcomes (positive & negative consequences) of engaging in alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, and/or high-risk sexual activity. The current study hypothesized that there would be positive correlations between SEU, its components (probability & desirability), and the positive consequences of each of the health-risk behaviors. Results partially supported these hypotheses, more so for alcohol drinking and high-risk sex than for cigarette smoking. Results suggest that the more that people engage in these health-risk behaviors, the greater are their expectancies and desires of positive consequences, whereas they tend to deny or minimize the negative consequences of such behavior.