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Risk communication with pictographs: The role of numeracy and graph processing

by R Hess, V H M Visschers, M Siegrist
Judgment and Decision Making ()


We conducted three studies to investigate how well pictographs communicate medical screening information to persons with higher and lower numeracy skills. In Study 1, we conducted a 2 (probability level: higher vs. lower) x 2 (reference information: yes vs. no) x 2 (subjective numeracy: higher vs. lower) between-subjects design. Persons with higher numeracy skills were influenced by probability level but not by reference information. Persons with lower numeracy tended to differentiate between a higher and a lower probability when there was no reference information. Study 2 consisted of interviews about the mental processing of pictographs. Higher numeracy was associated with counting the icons and relying on numbers depicted in the graph. Study 3 was an experiment with the same design as in Study 1, but, rather than using reference information, we varied the sequence of task type (counting first vs. non-counting first) to explore the role of the focus on numerical information. Persons with lower numeracy differentiated between higher and lower risk only when they were in the non-counting first condition. Task sequence did not influence the risk perceptions of persons with higher numeracy. In sum, our results suggest that pictographs may be useful for persons with higher and lower numeracy. However, these groups seem to process the graph differently. Persons with higher numeracy rely more on the numerical information depicted in the graph, whereas persons with lower numeracy seem to be confused when they are guided towards these numbers.

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