The impact of peer group communication on tanning behavior

Elizabeth Benoit, University of Rhode Island


Skin cancer has reached epidemic proportions in the United States due to an increase in UV related health behaviors, particularly indoor tanning. As of 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its classification of indoor tanning to definitely carcinogenic to humans. Americans continue to tan despite this knowledge of skin cancer due to the deep cultural and social connection between tanned skin and beauty. Previous studies have shown the connection between the peer group and individual identifies with and beliefs about tanning and tanning behavior. However, little research has addressed peer group communication on tanning behavior. ^ There is evidence from other health behavior research that peer communication does influence behavior. Studies addressing weight issues have highlighted this fact. Using that concept as a model and Social Cognitive Theory as a theoretical background, I addressed the impact of peer communication on tanning behavior. Five key peer groups were studied: athletes, academic achievers, populars, partiers, and regulars. Ten hypotheses were generated from the literature involving the respective peer groups and knowledge of skin cancer, discussion of health issues, discussion of image issues, tanning behavior, discussion of skin cancer, homophily of peer groups, and affirmations of tanning behavior. ^ There were no significant differences in knowledge among groups; however, there were significant differences in discussion of health concerns, discussion of image concerns, and tanning behavior among groups. Greater frequency of discussion of image concerns was found to correlate with greater frequency of tanning behavior. A correlation was also found between discussion of health issues and tanning behavior, but image was a stronger indicator. Peer group acceptance was not found to have a relationship with discussion of concern for skin cancer or family history of skin cancer, but peer group homophily with regard to tanning was found to have a relationship with tanning behavior. Finally, affirmations of tan and tanning by an individual's social network was found to have an correlation with tanning behavior.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Speech Communication|Health Sciences, Public Health

Recommended Citation

Elizabeth Benoit, "The impact of peer group communication on tanning behavior" (2012). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1508341.