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Consumers’ Optimistic Bias and Responses to Risk Disclosures in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Prescription Drug Advertising: The Moderating Role of Subjective Health Literacy

Ahn, Hoyoung (Anthony)
Committee Members: 
Dr. Eric Haley
August 2012

Abstract: Despite a substantial body of research in direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) for prescription drugs, what is missing from much of the existing discussion on DTCA disclosure is a focus on the roles of consumers’ individual motivation and ability factors in processing risk disclosures. Guided by the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and the Motivation-Ability- Opportunity (MAO) framework, this research focuses on the roles played by individuals’ optimistic bias as motivation and ones’ subjective health literacy as ability to process and evaluate risk disclosures in DTCA. Specifically, this study examined whether the degree of optimistic bias affected consumers’ risk disclosure processing in terms of their attention to risk disclosures, their perceived importance of risk disclosures, and their intentions to seek more risk information through alternative sources. Further, the study examined whether the relationship between the optimistic bias and the risk disclosure-related perceptions and intentions was moderated by consumers’ subjective health literacy. By analyzing online survey data collected among the U.S. adult population (N= 404), the study revealed that: (a) consumers who showed a tendency to believe they were at lesser risk of experiencing side-effects of prescription drugs than their peers were less likely to pay attention to risk disclosures, less likely to perceive reading the risk disclosures as being important, and less likely to seek further information about a prescription drug’s side-effects; (b) the relationship between optimistic bias and intentions to seek prescription drug risk information was stronger for consumers with high subjective health literary than for those with low subjective health literacy. In addition to theoretical implications, practical implications and recommendations are provided in light of a necessity to develop DTCA disclosure messages that communicate well with consumers.