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Public Tends to Follow Celebrities Even on Medical Issues

Health care providers need to take phenomenon seriously and counter bogus advice

MONDAY, Dec. 23, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Celebrities have credibility as sources of medical advice, even if they are ill-informed or are spreading potentially harmful information, according to research published online Dec. 17 in BMJ.

Steven J. Hoffman and Charlie Tan, both from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues conducted a systematic literature review to identify any studies analyzing mechanisms of celebrities' influence on people in any context.

According to the authors, economics literature indicates that celebrity endorsements act as signals of credibility that are used to differentiate products or ideas from competitors and can generate herd behavior. Marketing studies show that celebrities' desirable attributes are transferred to products and used to boost the products' perceived credibility. People are classically conditioned to react positively to the advice of celebrities, according to psychology studies, and experience cognitive dissonance if they do not. The spread of celebrity medical advice is thought of in sociology as a contagion that diffuses through social networks and people's desire to acquire celebrities' social capital.

"A better understanding of celebrity can empower health professionals to take this phenomenon seriously and use patient encounters to educate the public about sources of health information and their trustworthiness," Hoffman and Tan conclude.

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