Disease labelling effects on health perceptions
Though disease labels are critical to decisions taken by individuals, physicians, insurance companies, and legal institutions, little is known about the influence of labeling a constellation of symptoms as a disease on health perceptions.
Longoni explores such influence across five studies and documents a theoretically novel and substantively important disease labeling effect, whereby categorisation-based biases and defensive processes systematically interact and bias judgements of health risk.
A label explicitly signaling a mild ailment (or interpreted as such) leads to higher risk estimates when compared to a medical condition without a label. On the contrary, a label explicitly signaling a severe ailment (or interpreted as such) leads to lower risk estimates when compared to a medical condition without a label.
Longoni illustrates the motivational underpinnings of this disease labeling effect by comparing risk estimates for one’s self and average others, and by manipulating defensiveness-related variables. Longoni also confirms that this disease labeling effect is robust across several health domains, and when controlling for various exogenous variables such as pre-existing health expectations, well being, hypochondria, incidental affect and arousal.