Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Are we hard-wired to follow celebrity medical advice?

Date:
December 17, 2013
Source:
BMJ-British Medical Journal
Summary:
A paper published asks why so many people follow medical advice from celebrities when so much of it is ill-informed and some of it is potentially harmful.

A paper published in the Christmas edition of The BMJ asks why so many people follow medical advice from celebrities when so much of it is ill-informed and some of it is potentially harmful.

Celebrities can generate a large amount of publicity for health campaigns. For example, Michael J Fox's foundation has raised over $350 million for Parkinson's research and singer Sir Elton John's charity has raised more than $300 million to fight HIV/AIDs.

But their efforts are not always helpful. Sometimes the advice given by celebrities conflicts with recommendations from health professionals and research evidence and poses a public health hazard. Examples include former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy's incorrect messages about vaccines causing autism; Katie Couric's recent alarmist coverage of the HPV vaccine; and TV broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson claiming that "if you can pee against a wall from two feet, you haven't got it [prostate cancer]."

Researchers from McMaster University in Canada looked at how celebrities gain credibility as medical advisors and why the public can fall under their influence when making important health decisions. They analyzed economic, marketing, psychology and sociology studies from 1806 to the present day.

The researchers give several explanations for how celebrities gain credibility as medical advisors.

One explanation is "herding," which is people's natural tendency to make decisions based on what others have done in similar situations.

Another explanation is celebrities' "halo effect" which, as the researchers say, gives celebrities a "cloak of generalized trustworthiness which extends well-beyond their industry or expertise." Wanting to follow in their favorite celebrities' footsteps, consumers ignore other information and instead imitate the celebrity's health choices.

Celebrities also portray themselves as having an authentic connection to the product or behavior they are promoting. So are perceived as having greater credibility than their non-celebrity counterparts, despite having less medical knowledge and experience.

Another theory explaining celebrities' influence is that consumers want to purchase "social capital" from celebrities by acquiring their products, mimicking their lifestyles and taking their medical advice. For people seeking to raise their social status, one strategy is to imitate celebrity behaviours. Furthermore, consumers have a "self esteem motive" as they follow advice from celebrities who match how they want to perceive themselves and feel like they can become more like their favorite celebrity by purchasing products they have endorsed.

The study says health professionals can counter celebrities' negative influences by speaking to their patients about the validity of celebrity advice and cement themselves as sources of reputable health information. "We need to rethink and better understand where people obtain their health information and what makes them act upon it," said Hoffman. "Understanding why people follow celebrities' medical advice represents a good start."

Editor's Note: The British Medical Journal traditionally publishes a Christmas issue containing a number of articles of a lighthearted nature. For a full list of articles in the 2013 issue, see: http://www.bmj.com/content/347/7938


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. J. Hoffman, C. Tan. Following celebrities' medical advice: meta-narrative analysis. BMJ, 2013; 347 (dec17 14): f7151 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f7151

Cite This Page:

BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Are we hard-wired to follow celebrity medical advice?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217210544.htm>.
BMJ-British Medical Journal. (2013, December 17). Are we hard-wired to follow celebrity medical advice?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217210544.htm
BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Are we hard-wired to follow celebrity medical advice?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131217210544.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chameleon Camouflage to Give Tanks Cloaking Capabilities

Chameleon Camouflage to Give Tanks Cloaking Capabilities

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) Inspired by the way a chameleon changes its colour to disguise itself; scientists in Poland want to replace traditional camouflage paint with thousands of electrochromic plates that will continuously change colour to blend with its surroundings. The first PL-01 concept tank prototype will be tested within a few years, with scientists predicting that a similar technology could even be woven into the fabric of a soldiers' clothing making them virtually invisible to the naked eye. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jet Sales Lift Boeing Profit 18 Pct.

Jet Sales Lift Boeing Profit 18 Pct.

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) Strong jet demand has pushed Boeing to raise its profit forecast for the third time, but analysts were disappointed by its small cash flow. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) Now that the U.S. is restricting travel from West Africa, some are dropping questions about a travel ban and instead asking about visa bans. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) Stepping up their vigilance against Ebola, federal authorities said Wednesday that everyone traveling into the US from Ebola-stricken nations will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins