Thinking versus feeling: Differentiating between cognitive and affective components of perceived cancer risk

Eva Janssen*, Liesbeth van Osch, Lilian Lechner, Math Candel, Hein de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

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Despite the increased recognition of affect in guiding probability estimates, perceived risk has been mainly operationalised in a cognitive way and the differentiation between rational and intuitive judgements is largely unexplored. This study investigated the validity of a measurement instrument differentiating cognitive and affective probability beliefs and examined whether behavioural decision making is mainly guided by cognition or affect. Data were obtained from four surveys focusing on smoking (N = 268), fruit consumption (N = 989), sunbed use (N = 251) and sun protection (N = 858). Correlational analyses showed that affective likelihood was more strongly correlated with worry compared to cognitive likelihood and confirmatory factor analysis provided support for a two-factor model of perceived likelihood instead of a one-factor model (i.e. cognition and affect combined). Furthermore, affective likelihood was significantly associated with the various outcome variables, whereas the association for cognitive likelihood was absent in three studies. The findings provide support for the construct validity of the measures used to assess cognitive and affective likelihood. Since affective likelihood might be a better predictor of health behaviour than the commonly used cognitive operationalisation, both dimensions should be considered in future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-783
JournalPsychology & Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • risk perception
  • cancer
  • risk assessment
  • cognition and affect
  • feeling at risk

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