Broadly, our lab's overarching research goals are to understand:
1) How people think about their risk of disease and uncertain outcomes and when and why these beliefs predict behavior
2) Defensive responses to threatening health information
3) Common mechanisms underlying engagement in health behaviors
4) Psychological and behavioral aspects of genetic testing
Some of our specific ongoing studies are described below.
Defensive Reactions to Threatening Health Information
Health information can be threatening and people use many defensive strategies to cope with threatening information. Self-affirmation, in which people focus on their strengths and values, can reduce defensive responses to threat. We have collected data among tobacco users and nonsmokers to examine the prevalence of defensive reactions to KSU’s campus-wide smoke-free policy that was implemented in July 2017. We have also conducted an online experimental study testing multiple adaptations of a kindness self-affirmation manipulation for smartphones. This research is in collaboration with Drs. Erika Waters and Amy McQueen at Washington University in St. Louis. Our data suggest that translating interventions developed and tested for efficacy in laboratory settings to “real-world” settings may be more challenging than anticipated.
Numeracy and Health Decision Making
Disease risk information is often presented in the form of rational numbers, such as 76%, ¼, or 2 in 8 likelihood of developing disease. Dr. Taber is collaborating with mathematical cognition researchers Dr. Clarissa Thompson (Kent State University) and Dr. Pooja Sidney (University of Kentucky), to examine how people interpret and understand numeric information. We have found that adults’ attitudes about numeric information are differentiated by specific types of numbers: they have more positive attitudes about whole numbers and percentages than fractions. We are currently conducting research to examine individual differences involved in errors people make when interpreting numeric information during health decision-making. As personalized risk information becomes increasingly available with the advent of precision medicine, there is a need to ensure that people are accurately interpreting numeric health information to optimize their health.
Prognostic Awareness among Patients with Serious Illness
In a newer line of research, Dr. Taber is applying her work on risk perception measurement to understand terminally ill patients’ prognostic estimates. Dr. Taber, along with KSU collaborators Dr. Clare Stacey (Sociology) and Dr. Denice Sheehan (Nursing) received funding from Kent State’s Healthy Communities Research Initiative to interview hospice patients to learn more about how they think and feel about their prognosis.
Sleep and Cancer Risk Health Behaviors
The link between poor sleep and the major behavioral risk factors for cancer (physical inactivity, poor diet, alcohol consumption, tobacco use) has often been overlooked by cancer prevention researchers. In collaboration with multiple investigators in the U.S. (Drs. Matt Cribbet, Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, Darren Mays, Brinda Rana, Beth Smith), and Wales (Dr. Tapio Paljarvi), Dr. Taber was funded by Cancer Research-UK to conduct research to explore bidirectional associations among sleep and four cancer-related health behaviors (i.e., diet, physical activity, alcohol use, and smoking).
Risk Perceptions and Risk Conviction
In a conceptual paper, Drs. Taber and Klein argued that the predictive validity of risk perceptions may be increased by accounting for “conviction” or certainty of perceived risk (Taber & Klein, 2016). We are currently conducting laboratory-based experimental studies to test whether risk perceptions better predict intentions and behaviors when risk conviction is high versus low. This research stems from social psychological research on attitude certainty.