Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Affect Heuristic and Format Effect in Risk Perception

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Affect Heuristic and Format Effect in Risk Perception

Article excerpt

In modern, industrialized society, great effort has been made to make life safer and healthier, and people have become more concerned about risk. Coupled with the widespread use of social media, individuals know of more risks occurring and are increasingly aware of risk (Slovic, 1999). In addition to risks arising from natural events, such as earthquakes, floods, and typhoons, there are also man-made risks, such as surgical error, nuclear radiation, food safety, and car accidents. As natural and man-made disasters occur, people must make judgments on the risk of being involved in such an event. However, each of these risk events often exists with minimal probability and this makes it difficult for people to understand risk information (Gigerenzer, Hertwig, van den Broek, Fasolo, & Katsikopoulos, 2005; Siegrist, 1997). In order to make decision making about risk management effective people should be given more information so that their perception about the relative probability of any event is more accurate. Some scholars have found that the way that risk information is presented can influence the perception of degree of risk (Keller & Siegrist, 2009; Keller, Siegrist, & Gutscher, 2006; Siegrist, 1997).

Literature Review

Frequency and Probability

Risk information is often expressed in images, in verbal format, or in numerical form (Peters et al., 2006). It has been found that the format used to present probabilities in risk statements has an effect on the perceived risk level (Strathie, Netto, Walker, & Pender, 2017). Researchers have studied the application of probability formats in the context of health care information and found differences between a frequency format being used and a probability format being used (Ghosh et al., 2008; Schapira, Nattinger, & McHorney, 2001; Siegrist, 1997). Individuals often overlook important and meaningful risk information and instead focus on insignificant information (Siegrist, 1997), which distorts their risk perception. Thus, researchers have focused on evaluating which of the formats used is most effective in improving the accuracy of people's judgments (Fischhoff, Slovic, & Lichtenstein, 1982).

It has been found that when people are making judgments in uncertain situations, a frequency format is better than a probability format for risk information presentation (Hoffrage, Lindsey, Hertwig, & Gigerenzer, 2000; Schapira et al., 2001; Siegrist, 1997). Cuite, Weinstein, Emmons, and Colditz (2008) also found that the frequency format is more effective in communicating risk information than is the probability format. However, some scholars have suggested that there is no difference in the effectiveness of frequency and probability formats, except in discrepancy in materials (Halpern, Blackman, & Salzman, 1989). In general, most scholars agree that individuals can formulate different risk perceptions based on these two formats but that the frequency format is more effective to present risk information than is the probability format in most cases. Some scholars have suggested that the frequency format provides ease of interpretation, simplicity, and the ability to provide a human contextual quality in graphics, whereas the probability format is associated with personal risk estimation and mathematical quality (Schapira et al., 2001). Even in the health field, when using Bayes' theorem to judge risk information, the frequency format is also more accurate than the probability format. Hoffrage and Gigerenzer (1998) found that physicians feel uncertain when information is displayed in terms of probability rather than frequency.

The Affect Heuristic of Risk Events

Findings in studies show that risk perception is based on affect, and different affect can produce different risk perceptions; this phenomenon is called the affect heuristic. For example, fear may amplify an individual's estimation of risk, whereas anger may make him or her underestimate the risk. …

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