Risk Analysis

Does Medical Risk Perception and Risk Taking Change with Age?

Journal Article


Across adulthood, people face increasingly more risky medical problems and decisions. However, little is known about changes in medical risk taking across adulthood. Therefore, the current cross‐sectional study investigated age‐related differences in medical risk taking with N = 317 adults aged 20–77 years using newly developed scenarios to assess medical risk taking, and additional measures designed to evaluate risk‐taking behavior in the medical domain. Greater expected benefits on the Domain‐Specific Risk‐Taking Scale—Medical (DOSPERT‐M) predicted more active risk taking, whereas higher perceived risk predicted less active risk taking. Next, we examined differences in active and passive risk taking, where passive risk taking refers to risk taking that is associated with inaction. Age was associated with less passive risk taking, but not with active risk taking, risk perception, or expected benefits on the DOSPERT‐M. Participants were overall more likely to opt for taking medical action than not, even more so for a scenario about a vaccine for a deadly flu than for a scenario about a chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Overall, participants were more likely to accept medication (vaccine or chemotherapy) for their child than for themselves. Increasing age was associated with a lower likelihood of accepting the treatment or vaccine for oneself. Taken together, our study provides important insights about changes in medical risk taking across adulthood when people face an increasing number of complex and risky medical decisions.

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