Individual characteristics associated with perceptions of control over mortality risk and determinants of health effort

Richard Brown*, Elizabeth Sillence, Gillian Pepper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


People who believe they have greater control over health and longevity are typically more likely to invest in their long-term health. Investigating individual differences in perceived control over risk and exploring different determinants of health effort may help to tailor health promotion programs to more effectively encourage healthy behaviors. From a sample of 1500 adults, we measured perceived control over 20 causes of death, overall perceived uncontrollable mortality risk (PUMR), state-level optimism, self-reported health effort, and the accuracy of estimations of avoidable deaths. We found individual differences in perceptions of control over specific causes of death based on age, gender, and income. PUMR was predicted by socioeconomic variables expected to influence exposure to risk and resource availability. Higher levels of PUMR, not perceptions of control over specific causes of death, predicted self-reported health effort. The strength of relationship between PUMR and lower health effort was not moderated by state-level optimism. Age and education both positively predicted greater accuracy in assessing the prevalence of avoidable deaths. We suggest that PUMR may capture people's “general sense” of mortality risk, influenced by both exposure to hazards and the availability of resources to avoid threats. Conversely, perceived control over specific risks may involve more deliberate, considered appraisals of risk. This general sense of risk is thought to play a more notable role in determining health behaviors than specific assessments of control over risk. Further study is needed to investigate the degree to which PUMR accurately reflects objective measures of individual risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1339-1356
Number of pages18
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number6
Early online date23 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024

Cite this