Communicating Risk Information

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Communicating Risk Information

What negative consequences may occur when communicating risk information in the “real-world” and how do insights from cognitive psychology help?

What is normally risk? Ahmed, Naik, Willoughby and Edwards (2012) offered a definition, by just stating that risk is definitely a probability that something harmful will provoke harm in the foreseeable future. Then, what’s risk communication? Because the literature relating to this topic is so vast, a good starting point would be by citing Benjamin Franklin (1789). He wrote in a letter: ”Our Constitution is in actual procedure; everything appears to promise that it will last; however in this globe there is nothing specific but loss of life and taxes”. Gerd Gigerenzer (2002) just highlighted the last component (”Nothing is for certain but death and taxes”) and talked about the uncertainty which the public has to live with. Franklin acknowledged the chance but he offered no answer on how to handle it. This paper will concentrate on how persons communicate risk info in the ”real-community” and what negative outcomes it might have on a person. Also, could cognitive psychology improve this exchange of info?

Ahmed et al. (2012) continuing by explaining that risk connection is an instrument which aims to create people understand a certain kind of information (for instance, a medical diagnosis of disease) in order to help the patient to make a much better decision about his health. But in many cases, risk data is transmitted wrongly and the info will either be right but too ambiguous explained or the individual will prefer never to ask further query. The negative consequences of the actions could lead to anxiety and melancholy when receiving such a delicate facts. The interaction of risk can be found anywhere, from a news reportage (”the terrorism threat level is certainly orange”) to medicine (”risk of a coronary attack is certainly 15%”). But a dilemma emerges. How could a person understand the word ”orange” or the percentage of 15% without a background information. The risk could be intercepted as low because the orange colour is not red or that 15% is too much away from 100%. Therefore, the individual will have the essential perception. If it just happened to other people, it does not mean that it’ll happen to me. He will choose to not ask further issues, however the anxiety could stay in one’s mind. What if could it happen to me? That’s the main reason for this paper, to analyse the way the risk details is transmitted around diverse regions of interest and how it really is perceived among individuals. The general public interpret the risk according to their unique understanding and background. The main thing ought to be the knowing of how risk is certainly welcomed in people’s minds.

Moreover, uncertainty is a terrible feeling that one will possess several times in a lifetime. Brashers (2001) approached this subject matter and highlighted the emotions one would feel whenever a decision must be made when there is not enough information. In the previous example, when the chance info was communicated through percentages, the individual who received the news headlines that ”the threat of having a heart attack is 15%” could possibly be struggling with the analysis. The uncertainty was present. What 15% means? Is there a chance of another heart attack? Or there is not, mainly because the percentage is merely 15%? Both explications could appear equally correct or equally ambiguous, since the individual hadn’t received enough details beforehand. He will convince himself of a particular result, which generally may not be correct. Still, there is research which ultimately shows that there is absolutely no proof how uncertainty affects the population. (Johnson & Slovic, 1994)

In relation to the facts mentioned above, one concerning concern in how risk is normally communicated may be the probabilities of percentages. Gigerenzer and Hoffrage (1994) started this debate, by telling replace this method of reporting delicate information with healthy frequencies. An explication is always to imagine that individuals possessed a cognitive algorithm that could carry out statistical inferences. And what if these algorithms wouldn’t normally be designed to appreciate probabilities of percentages? Once the humanity progressed, perhaps a person would be able to comprehend a natural presentation of specific info, based on previous encounters. According to Gallistel (1990), even animals have a higher tendency of recognizing specific changes in rate of recurrence distributions in their environment.

Consequently, this fact may be applied to humans. An effective example for this argument was presented by Gigerenzer (2000) in his book. A tale called ”Prozac’s side Results” started with a psychiatrist good friend of the author. Whenever a patient received a prescription to have Prozac, the psychiatrist advised him that he had ”a 30 to 50 percent chance of developing a sexual problem”, for example impotence or lack of sexual curiosity. The curious factor was that no individual asked for an explication of the medial side effects, even though the psychiatrist observed their increased degree of anxiety. The problem to get resolved was the way in which the connection of risk information was perceived. He realised this result after he read Gigerenzer’s book (2000) and modified his approach to approaching the individuals. But that which was the trouble? When he told patients that they had ”a 30 to 50 percent chance of creating a sexual problem”, most of them imagined that in 30 out of 50 percent of their sexual encounters something critical might happen. Even if the quantities are right, from a psychological point were observed in a different light. After the psychiatrist changed the probability of percentages by expressing the side effects through all natural frequencies (”3 to 5 sufferers will experience a sexual difficulty, out of 10”), the level of anxiety of individuals decreased considerably and the patients began to ask questions about their condition, such as what could happen if they are among the 3 to 5 people? The moral of the history is that despite the fact that an experienced doctor provides correct info to his person, the reference class was overlooked. The negative outcomes of communicating risk in real life were that the expression of percentages remaining the perception of individuals to speculate and invent a reference class. When someone uses normal frequencies, a person would not need to think if that included his sexual encounters.

When taking about uncertainty, another significant flag may be the illusion of certainty. Gigerenzer (2000) concentrated for this tendency of coping case study interview with an answer that may be wrong the truth is. Our subconscious head, when encountering a particular issue, switches the uncertainty with certainty. This could be included in the communication of risk and its negative consequences, when one have a problem with a diagnosis which is normally perceived at a cognitive level as authentic. In the real world, when an individual is obligated to deal with a hypersensitive and ambiguous term, the mind measures in. The perception system will attempt to understand the info and send it to our subconscious, which it will acknowledge it as a truthful reality.

Another case presented by Gigerenzer (2000) is ”Susan’s nightmare”. The girl received a great HIV diagnostic, after she utilized drugs. The condition made her shed her job, her residence and she also distanced from her kid to protect him. Several months passed and she visited the doctor with bronchitis. Afterward, she was asked to retest her blood for HIV. No-one can imagine her surprise when the test returned bad. But how could this be possible? Apparently, Susan’s blood vessels sample was switched with another patient’s sample. This made an illusion of certainty. The certainty that Susan was infected and the certainty that the additional patient could live. That is called a false-confident, and the situation was that no doctors told her that there have been two assessments (the Elisa and Western blot) or that mistakes might happen. The outcome was regarded as 100% correct and that once a check came positive, regardless if the other one offered a false-positive, it intended that she had the condition. The results of the doctors’ action changed Susan’s life for nine weeks and nearly destroyed her. Of course, many factors could possibly be considered, such as both tests showing a poor result when actually she was contaminated. But whatever the risk might be, it was the doctors’ duty to handle these issues and make clear the complete situation to Susan.

To avoid the results of risk communicant, some cognitive psychologists tried to manage people’s uncertainty by inventing ‘the cognitive theory of decision’. (Noll & Krier, 1990). It was made up of the solely reason for making people understand the risks that they need to confront each day. In this theory, it was presented that people choose shortcuts every day that causes most of enough time their inability to comprehend probability when assessing the risk that they have to face. This theory attempted to analyse how an individual can manage risk regulation, despite the fact that the source scholarship personal statement of mistakes could not be found. Every person is different plus they have many perception on the community. Still, this theory might help to improve how the public understand risk connection and the way the risks ought to be minimised.

To conclude, risk facts is presented in many ways. From an illusion of certainty to the trial of making people understand percentages, the connection of risk data poses as a major challenge for organizations. Harman (2009) raised the reality where people live in, by stating that in order for people to comprehend the dangers that surround them, it will be better to embrace the wrong perception of the people and check out it as a chance for improvement. Subsequently, the ‘cognitive theory of decision’ (Noll & Krier, 1990) techniques in, with the hope of minimizing the uncertainty which a person must live with in the ‘real-world’. However, these procedures of working with risk will get hard to erase from everyone’s minds.


Ahmed, H., Naik, G., Willoughby, H., & Edwards, A. G. (2012). Interacting risk. Bmj, 344, e3996.

Brashers, D. E. (2001). Communication and uncertainty operations. Journal of communication, 51(3), 477-497.

Gigerenzer, G. (2002). Reckoning with risk. London: Penguin.

Gigerenzer, G., & Hoffrage, U. (1995). How to boost Bayesian reasoning without instruction: frequency types. Psychological Review, 102, 684-704.

Hardman, D. (2009). Judgment and decision building. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Johnson, B. B., & Slovic, P. (1994). “Improving” Risk Communication and Risk Control: Legislated Alternatives or Legislated Disasters?. Risk Analysis, 14(6), 905-906.

Johnson, B. B., & Slovic, P. (1995). Presenting uncertainty in health risk assessment: initial research of its effects on risk perception and trust. Risk analysis, 15(4), 485-494.

Noll, R. G., & Krier, J. E. (1990). Some implications of cognitive psychology for risk regulation. The Journal of Legal Studies, 19(S2), 747-779.

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