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


  • Rebecca Hess
  • Vivianne H. M. Visschers
  • Michael Siegrist


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Rebecca Hess & Vivianne H. M. Visschers & Michael Siegrist, 2011. "Risk communication with pictographs: The role of numeracy and graph processing," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(3), pages 263-274, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:6:y:2011:i:3:p:263-274

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    Cited by:

    1. Cornelia Betsch & Niels Haase & Frank Renkewitz & Philipp Schmid, 2015. "The narrative bias revisited: What drives the biasing influence of narrative information on risk perceptions?," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10(3), pages 241-264, May.
    2. Carmen Keller & Christina Kreuzmair & Rebecca Leins-Hess & Michael Siegrist, 2014. "Numeric and graphic risk information processing of high and low numerates in the intuitive and deliberative decision modes: An eye-tracker study," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 9(5), pages 420-432, September.
    3. Marielle Brunette, 2012. "Do risk communication methods perform to generate rationality?," Working Papers - Cahiers du LEF 2012-01, Laboratoire d'Economie Forestiere, AgroParisTech-INRA.


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