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Surprising Science

The Angelina Jolie Effect

Her decision to have a double mastectomy helped empower women — to let them know they aren’t entirely powerless against cancer.

Angelina Jolie made headlines in 2013 when she made the decision to have a double mastectomy. Her reasons for the surgery were valid: She was a carrier for the BRCA1 gene, which has been linked to increased risks of breast (around 87 percent) and ovarian (50 percent) cancers. So, rather than take the wait-and-see approach, she made a calculated decision to better her odds of survival. Angelia Jolie’s decision brought attention to the BRCA1 gene and started a global conversation about breast cancer and genetic testing.

A recent study examined the effects of this public decision, looking at how and why this event has influenced other women to take control of their predetermined genetic fates. Professor Kami Kosenko led the study; his main goal was to understand if the publicity from Jolie’s announcement was influential enough to drive people to action and what made people so attracted to her and her story. Kosenko put out a survey three days after Jolie’s announcement where 356 people responded. Of the 229 female participants in the survey, Kosenko found that 30 percent said they were motivated to get tested for the gene, with 23 percent replying that they would likely get tested and 7 percent giving a hard yes to getting tested.

As for why these people were influenced by Jolie’s decision, Kosenko found it all came down to whether or not they felt they had a personal relationship with her. He explained: 

“Women who identified more strongly with Jolie were more likely to intend to get the genetic testing regardless of whether they had a family history of cancer than women who did have a family history of cancer, but did not identify with Jolie. The same was true of women who felt they had some sort of parasocial relationship with Jolie, meaning they viewed her as a friend. This means that Jolie’s speaking out definitely had an impact.”

Perhaps this feeling of having a personal connection to someone like Jolie allowed some women to take control. Jolie echoed much of the psychology that surrounds the big-C in her op-ed piece for The New York Times when she wrote, “Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness.” Perhaps all women needed was a champion to show them they could have some semblance of control over their fates.

Read more at EurekAlert!

Photo credit: SAFIN HAMED / Getty


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