Among members of a dating website, interest in dating a cancer survivor was lower than interest in a comparable person without a cancer history. Although this finding supported our first hypothesis, this difference was negligible in effect size.
Women were found to be less interested in a date than men supporting our second hypothesis , but this gender difference did not depend on whether the potential partner had cancer or not. Our third hypothesis, that divorced and widowed people would be less interested in dating a cancer survivor was only supported for widowed people. We expected to find the same difference for divorced people, but that was not the case.
It may be that specifically losing a partner to death makes widowed people reluctant to dating someone who has had cancer and might die. They may have also lost their previous partner to cancer and may want to avoid going through such an experience again.
Therefore, it can be expected that having had cancer is relevant for older survivors looking for a new partner, as they are more likely to encounter someone who is widowed. Although this experiment was done in a highly relevant context i. We noticed that respondents were not very likely to see themselves dating the presented person i. We speculate that a missing picture may be a vital reason for this overall low interest. Looks are an extremely important first trigger of interest [ 45 ].
In order to improve upon this potential pitfall, we decided to include a profile picture in our second experiment. Interest in a cancer survivor among young adults Because members of a dating website are a diverse population when it comes to age and previous relationship status, we aimed to test our hypotheses in a more homogeneous group of young adult single people.
In early adulthood, other reasons for dating may prevail in comparison to older adulthood. While older adults might aim for marriage, young adults tend to aim for short-term partners and less relationship involvement, and desire someone who is similar to them [ 46 ].
During this phase in life, it could be that a cancer history implies that the other person is less similar at a young age, few people have been confronted with such a serious life event , resulting in less interest. A previous experiment in a student sample showed that respondents saw themselves as less similar to someone with cancer, than a patient with a sprained ankle [ 47 ].
Also, at a young age, physical appearance and sexual traits such as passion and sexual responsiveness are considered more important in a sexual or romantic partner than at an older age [ 48 , 49 ]. To account for this, we first assessed interest in the person before learning about the cancer history to examine whether the disclosure of a cancer history would decrease this initial interest.
We then asked participants when they would like to learn about a cancer history from a dating partner. Qualitative studies reported that young adult cancer survivors sometimes struggle with when and how to tell a potential new partner about their cancer history [ 22 , 50 ], but study findings from healthy partners perspectives are missing.
Students did not receive credits for their participation, but were informed that this study was part of their colloquium and that they would be informed about the results in an upcoming lecture.
This resulted in a remaining sample of respondents see Table 1 , column experiment 2. The voluntary and anonymous character of the study was explained online and participants were informed that by proceeding with the questionnaire, they indicated their consent with participation.
Participants were asked to indicate basic demographic information before they were randomized to the healthy or cancer condition see Table 1 , column experiment 2. They were presented with a description and picture of a fictive fellow student. Gender of the fictive student was matched by sexual orientation and pictures showed a close-up with a happy facial expression used from the Radboud Faces Database [ 51 ].
The male and female pictures were selected based on age comparable to the age of first year students and attractive looks. After answering several questions, respondents were presented with part 2 of the profile, presenting either a story for the healthy condition lost best friend to cancer three years ago vs. The Ethical Committee of the psychology department of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, approved of this study ppo After reading the first part of the scenario, respondents rated on a visual analog scale no 1 —yes 10 whether they would be interested in a date with this person initial interest.
After being randomized, they again rated interest in a date, followed by ratings of the presented person on 10 traits i. Finally, all participants including those in the healthy condition were asked when they would like to learn about a cancer history of a potential romantic partner i. Univariate general linear model with condition healthy vs. General linear models with condition and gender as fixed factors and the traits as dependent variable showed differences in three of the seven traits.
No significant effects were found for gender or the interaction of condition and gender. Correlations between the assessment of traits and interest in a date varied somewhat between conditions Table 3. In both conditions, respondents were more interested in a date when they assessed the person as being more interesting, independent, healthy, funny, and strong.
However, interest of respondents in the healthy condition was also related to them seeing the person as more brave, whereas this was not the case in the cancer condition. Interest of respondents in the cancer condition was related to their assessment of the other person as being friendly and experienced, whereas this was not the case in the healthy condition. Best time for disclosure: Young adult single students were as interested in dating another student who was treated for cancer a few years earlier than someone without such an illness history.
Their initial interest in the presented person was the strongest factor associated with their final interest in a date, not the illness history. This suggests that interest in dating a person does not change once someone hears about a cancer history as also indicated by their strong correlation.
In addition, these students also attributed positive traits to the cancer survivor such as being brave and strong, while not assessing the survivor as less healthy which was the case with dating website members. These results indicate that some of the worries young cancer survivors have expressed in qualitative studies with respect to dating are unwarranted. It may be that the effect of media coverage of having cancer is shifting from something to be feared [ 52 ] to something that can be conquered and beaten [ 32 , 53 ].
These students, on average 19 years old, have probably seen many campaigns and posters providing them with success stories of survivors, while their real-life experience with cancer may be more limited. When young adult survivors start dating a new romantic partner, they can expect that others would prefer them to disclose this early on, specifically after a few dates.
This second experiment was designed more rigorously than the first one, as we added information on initial interest in a date, to account for basic liking of the person without knowing their illness history.
Also, we added a profile picture of a person with a similar age to the description. However, both experiments presented a survivor who was beyond the treatment phase. Thus, interest in dating might be different if individuals are faced with potentially dating a cancer patient who is closer to diagnosis and still being regularly checked by their medical providers. Therefore, we built upon experiment 2 and designed experiment 3 which we presented to students in the next academic year, and varied conditions based upon illness statuses: Interest in a date and phase of disease follow-up In the years following end of active treatment, people treated for cancer remain in follow-up.
This means they are regularly checked for their health, and for possible tumor activity to detect metastases or relapse. Some survivors use medication to lower the chance of recurrence. It is possible that fear or distancing from a serious illness is larger when confronted with someone who is still having regular check-ups at the hospital, and therefore may be seen as not yet fully cured. Also, the illness still plays a role in daily life shortly after treatment completion.
Therefore, we hypothesized that students would be less interested in dating someone who has had cancer and is still under close medical monitoring as compared to a survivor who no longer regularly visits the hospital for check-ups related to the treatment of cancer. The method and procedure was similar to experiment 2, only the vignettes were adapted to differentiate between two phases of cancer survivorship.
The online survey was presented to first year medicine students in the year following experiment 2. This resulted in a sample of respondents, of which ten left the survey before randomization see Table 1 , column experiment 3. Participants in the beyond follow-up condition were on average Univariate general linear model with condition beyond follow-up vs. We entered initial interest as measured in part 1, before illness disclosure as covariate.
It also appeared that in the beyond follow-up condition, women showed more interest in a date than men, which was contradictory to our hypothesis Table 2. General linear model with condition and gender as fixed factors and the traits as dependent variables showed that survivors in the active follow-up condition were seen as more independent, less insecure, more friendly, less healthy, more experienced, and stronger than survivors in the beyond follow-up condition Table 4.
Men did not assess these traits differently between conditions. All traits correlated with interest in a date, which varied between conditions Table 3. In the beyond follow-up condition, participants were more interested in a date when they assessed the person as being more insecure and needy, whereas this was not the case in the active follow-up condition nor in the other conditions of experiment 2. Interest of participants in the active follow-up condition was positively related to their assessment of the person as independent, experienced, and strong, whereas this was not the case in the other condition.