Thinking of future as an older individual increases perceived risks for age‐related diseases but not for COVID‐19

Dario Monzani, Marco Marinucci, Luca Pancani, Patrice Rusconi, Davide Mazzoni, Gabriella Pravettoni
Published Online:
25 Jun 2021

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Actively thinking of one's future as an older individual could increase perceived risk and risk aversion. This could be particularly relevant for COVID‐19, if we consider the common representation of the risk of being infected by COVID‐19 as associated with being older. Increased perceived risk could bear consequences on the adoption of preventive behaviours. Thus, we investigated whether increasing the salience of individuals' future as an older adult would impact on their perceived risk for COVID‐19 and medical conditions varying for age‐relatedness. One hundred and forty‐four Italian adults (Mage = 27.72, range: 18–56) were randomly assigned to either a future as older adult thinking or control condition. Perceived risk for COVID‐19 and other strongly, and weakly age‐related medical conditions during the lifetime was measured. Results showed that thinking about the future as an older adult increased perceived risk for strongly and weakly age‐related diseases, but not for COVID‐19. The salience of the COVID‐19 outbreak may have raised the perceived risks in both experimental conditions, making the manipulation ineffective. In conclusion, manipulating future‐oriented thinking might be a successful communication strategy to increase people's perceived risk of common diseases, but it might not work for highly salient pathologies such as COVID‐19.

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