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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Catalina E. Kopetz


Many of the leading causes of adult deaths are attributable to risk behavior like drinking, smoking and drug use. The question is why people would choose these risky behaviors when they are aware of the negative effects these behaviors have on their health. We propose that risk behavior represents means to people’s momentary goals. According to the principles of goal pursuit, a means is perceived as particularly instrumental to one’s goal to the extent to which it interferes with other goals. Thus, risk behavior might be particularly appealing because of its negative consequences akin to the “no pain, no gain” heuristic. To test this notion, 2 experimental studies were conducted. Study 1 recruited 272 participants and assessed their willingness to engage in risk behavior as a function of their belonging goals and the accessibility of negative health consequences. The results showed that participants whose belonging goals were rendered accessible were more willing to engage in risk behaviors. Participants were also more willing to engage in risk behavior when they perceived the risk behaviors as being instrumental to their social goals. Study 2 recruited 230 participants and assessed participants’ engagement in risk behavior, as measured by consumption of a fictitious stimulant, as a function of their achievement motivation and the accessibility of negative health consequences. The results did not find support for the main hypotheses but did find effects in line with research on the placebo effect. Both Study 1 and Study 2 suffered from methodological problems and failed to manipulate the intended constructs. Thus, future studies should improve upon the present methods in order to truly test the hypotheses.

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