60-Second Science

Looking Good Trumps Health as Behavioral Motivator

Teenagers who watched videos about skin damage from sun exposure used sunscreen far more than those who saw info about sun-caused skin cancer. Christopher Intagliata reports

Sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer. Sunscreen can help you keep looking young. So, which claim will motivate young people to use sunscreen?
To find out, researchers showed videos to 50 high-school juniors, who used sunscreen less than once a week, on average. Half saw a video that stressed the health consequences of foregoing sunscreen: “Did you know that having one bad sunburn in your life increases your chances of getting melanoma?” The others saw a video that stressed the sun's effect on appearance: “Skin damage can show up as wrinkles, dark spots, uneven skin tones, sagging skin and rough leathery skin.”
Six weeks later, the kids who watched the health video hadn't changed their habits. But the students who saw the beauty video were slathering on sunscreen three times a week. The findings are in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. [William Tuong and April W. Armstrong, Effect of appearance-based education compared with health-based education on sunscreen use and knowledge: A randomized controlled trial]
The study does have one limitation: teenagers are invincible. So they might always be prone to favor beauty over health. Still, the researchers say PSAs that combine both health and beauty messages could be just the thing to encourage older adults to change their ways. At least, those willing to listen. [The Jersey Shore’s Snooki: “I love tanning, I love to be bronze, you know, have that sexy tan look.”

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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