Graduate School

MS, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (Social Psychology), 2003

PhD, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ (Social Psychology), 2006

MPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD (Epidemiology), 2007

Post Doctoral Education

Cancer Prevention Fellow, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, 2006-2009

Honors and Awards

National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Award in Health Disparities, 2013 (2 years)

National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Award in Health Disparities, 2011 (2 years)

Fellows’ Award for Research Excellence (FARE), National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, 2009

Research Interests

Dr. Waters seeks to understand how people think about health risks and how those thoughts influence their health-related decisions and behavior. To accomplish this, Dr. Waters explores the rich variety of cognitive, emotional, and social factors that make it difficult for people to use health risk information effectively. Understanding these inter-relationships will enable the development of health communication and behavior interventions that aim to reduce disparities in cancer morbidity and mortality. Most of Dr. Waters’ research focuses on cancer prevention, but the principles derived from her work have broader applicability to other health conditions.

Currently, Dr. Waters has four primary research projects:

  1. Explore how cigarette smokers’ responses to information about the presence of a genetic basis for nicotine addiction affect their thoughts, emotions, and behavior related to smoking. Understanding differences in beliefs between African-American and Caucasian smokers, and between smokers with more and less formal education is a priority.
  2. Examine how Internet-based health risk calculators such as Your Disease Risk can be used to affect people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, including their possible role in alleviating health disparities. This area of interest includes testing the efficacy of existing calculators and developing and testing novel risk communication strategies that aim to optimize communication efforts and thereby strengthen their effect on behavior. These novel strategies will be applicable to multiple communication modalities, channels, and platforms.
  3. Understand how, why, and under what circumstances people’s medical treatment decisions are influenced by the risk of experiencing medication side effects.
  4. Understand the causes and consequences of laypeople’s uncertainty about their risk of cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Waters also has a strong focus on community education and outreach.  She has given several radio interviews, has spoken at cancer prevention and control fundraisers, and has assisted in disseminating the 8 Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Cancer via health fairs and employer-sponsored health events.

Contact Information

660 S. Euclid Avenue
Campus Box 8100
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 747-5705

Selected Publications

Waters EA, Muff J, Hamilton JA.  Smokers’ beliefs about the tobacco control potential of “a gene for smoking”.  BMC Public Health. 2014 Nov 25;14:1218. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-1218. PubMed PMID:
25424390; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4258807.

Waters EA, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Fagerlin A. Avoiding common pitfalls of risk communication. In: Diefenbach M, editor. Handbook of Health Decision Science: Springer Verlag Press; In press. 

Waters EA, Muff J, Hamilton JA.  Multifactorial beliefs about the role of genetics and behavior in common health conditions: Prevalence and associations with participant characteristics and engagement in health behaviors.  Genetics in Medicine.  2014 May 15.  doi: 10.1038/gim.2014.49.

Shepperd JA, Klein WMP, Waters EA, Weinstein ND.  Taking stock of unrealistic optimism. Perspectives in Psychological Science. 2013;8:395-411. DOI: 10.1177/1745691613485247.

Waters EA, Kincaid, C, Kaufman AR, Stock ML, Peterson LM, Muscanell NL, Guadagno RE.  Concerns about unintended negative consequences of informing the public about multifactorial risks may be premature for young adult smokers.  British Journal of Health Psychology.  2013 Oct 1. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12069.

Waters EA, Hay J, Orom H, Kiviniemi MT, Drake BF. "Don't know" responses to risk perception measures: implications for underserved populations. Medical Decision Making. 2013;33:271-81.

Waters EA, McQueen A, Cameron LD. Perceived risk and health risk communication. In: Hamilton H, Chou W-Y, editors. Handbook of Language and Health Communication: Routledge Press; 2013.

Waters EA, McNeel TS, Stevens WM, Freedman AN. Use of tamoxifen and raloxifene for breast cancer chemoprevention in 2010. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2012 Jul;134(2):875-80. PubMed PMID: 22622807.

Janssen E, Waters EA, van Osch L, Lechner L, de Vries H. The importance of affectively-laden beliefs about health risks: the case of tobacco use and sun protection. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2012 Oct 17. PubMed PMID: 23073599

Witteman HO, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Waters EA, Gavaruzzi T, Fagerlin A. Risk estimates from an online risk calculator are more believable and recalled better when expressed as integers. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2011;13(3):e54. PubMed PMID: 21908265. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3222170.

Waters EA, Klein WM, Moser RP, Yu M, Waldron WR, McNeel TS, et al. Correlates of unrealistic risk beliefs in a nationally representative sample. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2011 Jun;34(3):225-35. PubMed PMID: 21110077. Pubmed Central PMCID: 3088765.

Waters EA, Sullivan HW, Nelson W, Hesse BW. What is my cancer risk? How internet-based cancer risk assessment tools communicate individualized risk estimates to the public: content analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2009;11(3):e33. PubMed PMID: 19674958. Pubmed Central PMCID: 2762854.

Waters EA, Weinstein ND, Colditz GA, Emmons K. Explanations for side effect aversion in preventive medical treatment decisions. Health Psychology. 2009 Mar;28(2):201-9. PubMed PMID: 19290712. Pubmed Central PMCID: 2657933.

Waters EA, Weinstein ND, Colditz GA, Emmons KM. Reducing aversion to side effects in preventive medical treatment decisions. Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied. 2007 Mar;13(1):11-21. PubMed PMID: 17385998.

Waters EA, Weinstein ND, Colditz GA, Emmons K. Formats for improving risk communication in medical tradeoff decisions. Journal of Health Communication. 2006 Mar;11(2):167-82. PubMed PMID: 16537286.

Dr. Waters on PubMed

Editorial Positions

Editorial Board Membership

2011-present, Medical Decision Making

Reviewer for (selected):

British Journal of Health Psychology
Cancer Causes & Control
Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention
Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Journal of Health Communication
Medical Decision Making
Psychology and Health
Risk Analysis
Social Science & Medicine


Emmons KM, Cuite C, Waters E. Cancer risk communication and comprehension. In: Schottenfeld D, Fraumini JF, editors. Cancer epidemiology and prevention. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2006. p. 1303-9.