How Well Do People Recall Risk Factor Test Results? Accuracy and Bias Among Cholesterol Screening Participants

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The authors conducted a community-based cholesterol screening study to examine accuracy of recall for self-relevant health information in long-term autobiographical memory. Adult community residents (N = 496) were recruited to participate in a laboratory-based cholesterol screening and were also provided cholesterol counseling in accordance with national guidelines. Participants were subsequently interviewed 1, 3, or 6 months later to assess their memory for their test results. Participants recalled their exact cholesterol levels inaccurately (38.0% correct) but their cardiovascular risk category comparatively well (88.7% correct). Recall errors showed a systematic bias: Individuals who received the most undesirable test results were most likely to remember their cholesterol scores and cardiovascular risk categories as lower (i.e., healthier) than those actually received. Recall bias was unrelated to age, education, knowledge, self-rated health status, and self-reported efforts to reduce cholesterol. The findings provide evidence that recall of self-relevant health information is susceptible to self-enhancement bias.

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