Date of Award

January 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joelle Ruthig


Past research has shown that individuals have a strong tendency to believe that they are less likely than others to experience negative health outcomes (Weinstein, 1980). This tendency to be “unrealistically optimistic” can contribute to greater engagement in risky health behaviors, and in turn, greater actual risk of the negative health outcome. Within the current study, factors previously shown to influence unrealistically optimistic health perceptions (i.e., images of risky/protective health behavior, peer risk estimates, personal risk/protective factors) were directly manipulated to examine their effects on young women’s perceived risk of developing skin cancer. Participants were 363 Caucasian women between the ages of 18 and 24 who completed an online study via MTurk. The study entailed an Image (high risk, low risk, no image) x Peer Information (given, not given) x Personal Factors List (risk, protective, none) 3 x 2 x 3 factorial design. Results showed no significant differences in risk estimates among participants who received the “unrealistic optimism diminishing” conditions vs. those who received the “unrealistic optimism enhancing” conditions, and neither group differed from those who received the control conditions. However, a significant main effect for Peer Information indicated that participants who received peer information estimated their absolute risk and comparative risk as significantly lower than those who did not view peer information. Findings from the study provide a better understanding of the factors that contribute to young women’s risk perceptions regarding skin cancer.