July 2008- 2010

Striving for Good Feelings or Averting Bad Ones? The Role of Affective Goals in Health Care Decisions across the Life Span


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Birgit Koopmann
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Jeanne Tsai

Previous research suggests that the emotions people value ("ideal affect") can help explain cultural differences in health care preferences. For example, those valuing excitement tend to prefer physicians who promote excitement and medications that induce feelings of excitement. However, the emotions people want to avoid ("avoided affect") may be just as influential, particularly among older adults and East Asian Americans who tend to be motivated more by avoiding (versus approaching) certain outcomes. Using survey methods, this study will examine whether the emotions people want to avoid change as we age for two cultural groups, European Americans and East Asian Americans. We will then examine the conditions under which avoided affect shapes health care preferences. Participants will read several hypothetical health care scenarios (e.g., selecting a medication) and indicate their preference for two options framed in terms of positive (e.g., induces energy vs. relaxation) or negative (induces anxiety vs. lethargy) affective states. Results from this study may have important implications for understanding cultural differences in decisions to utilize health care across the life span. Such differences may account for existing disparities in patient physician communication and adherence to medical treatments among different minority groups.