QUESTION: How have theorists and empirical researchers treated the human tendency to avoid discomforting information?

DATA SOURCES: A historical review (1890-2004) of theory literature in communication and information studies, coupled with searches of recent studies on uptake of genetic testing and on coping strategies of cancer patients, was performed.

STUDY SELECTION: The authors' review of the recent literature included searches of the MEDLINE, PsychInfo, and CINAHL databases between 1992 and summer of 2004 and selective, manual searches of earlier literature. Search strategies included the following subject headings and key words: MeSH headings: Genetic Screening/psychology, Decision Making, Neoplasms/diagnosis/genetics/psychology; CINAHL headings: Genetic Screening, Genetic Counseling, Anxiety, Decision Making, Decision Making/Patient; additional key words: avoidance, worry, monitoring, blunting, cancer. The "Related Articles" function in MEDLINE was used to perform additional "citation pearl" searching.

MAIN RESULTS: The assumption that individuals actively seek information underlies much of psychological theory and communication practice, as well as most models of the information-seeking process. However, much research has also noted that sometimes people avoid information, if paying attention to it will cause mental discomfort or dissonance. Cancer information in general and genetic screening for cancer in particular are discussed as examples to illustrate this pattern.

CONCLUSION: That some patients avoid knowledge of imminent disease makes avoidance behavior an important area for social and psychological research, particularly with regard to genetic testing.

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Published in Journal of the Medical Library Association, v. 93, no. 3, p. 353-362.

© 2005 the authors

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