PSYC 3110 Lecture Notes - Lecture 20: Group Psychotherapy, Pregnancy Rate, Sunscreen

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Lecture 19 and 20: Risk Communication
o “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” - Benjamin Disraeli
(?) 
- Numbers are not just numbers, they can be used in many different ways and
communicated ways
- Often they can be used to miscommunicate
- You can cause a lot of problem by miscommunicating with statistics
o “Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the
ability to read and write.” - H.G. Wells (?) 
- Think about screening. To really understand screening you have to understand
Statistical Innumeracy
• Illusion of certainty
- When we think in terms of binaries. In the end the outcome is binary, but you don’t
know what outcome is. So when you talk about the risk of getting cancer it is a
probabilistic thing
- The illusion of certainty refers to the fact that you can’t grasp probabilities of risk
• Ignorance of risk
- Plane crash example. Not being aware of risk. Not understanding risk of dying on a
plane. People who are scare say it’s because they are scared of a plane crash but the risk
is alone. Thus, they don’t understand the risk.
• Miscommunication of risk
- Problem is not with the person receiving the miscommunication but how it is
• Clouded thinking
- Refers to when we have difficulties making sense of risk communication
- Example: HIV screening test. It comes back positive. Just because it is positive doesn’t
mean you have condition. What is the probability that you actually have HIV/Aids.
Clouded thinking is the inability to work out probability.
- Opposite of engaging in statistical thinking
Risk Research
• Very large scope (far beyond health)
- Lots of research
• Often difficult to link different areas of risk research with common themes or
- Difficult to link different areas because it is so diverse
• Also, definitions of risk noticeably contentious
- Definitions of risk vary across the areas
There are common themes
1. Risk Perceptions
- Why perceive risk in a certain way
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2. Framing Effects
3. Improving risk perceptions
- Focuses on the individual out there and why do people not have good perceptions
4. Improving risk communications
- Focuses on the professional who is communicated risk, and looking at how can we
improve that
1. Risk Perceptions
Central concept in risk communication 
Compare to ‘actual risk’– Focus on subjective versus objective risk assessments
- Very often people have risk estimates that are not accurate in comparison to
- Why do people have these incorrect risk assessments?
Evolutionary focus on risk assessment as survival mechanism 
Availability heuristic
Introduction of bias 
- Plane crash example. Ask people. Look at research. Compare subjective and research to
address conclusions. Determine whether people have accurate perceptions or not.
Challenging the Bias Interpretation
Interpretation of ‘bias’ based on comparison of one correct statistical solution 
Based on ‘classical rationality’– Real world examples do not conform to these
restrictions 
Concept of ‘bounded rationality’
Cognitive mechanisms underlying decisions &
Structure of environment 
Recognition of constraints
Limited time
– Limited knowledge
– Limited computational power 
- Common approach the risk discussed before but not a lot of people challenge that
- When we talk about bias what is being suggested is that you should be more rational
- Classical rationality refers to idea that good decisions is about taking into account all
the evidence and making an interpretation
Some argue that nobody makes decisions that way and further argue that it’s actually
not a good way to make decisions because in the real world we operate under constraints
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(limited time, knowledge, brain power good but not like a supercomputer to crunch
- What people on this side of the fence argue is that classical rationality is not a good
bench mark we should talk about bounded rationality
- In real world context we do not have the luxury of all the amount of time we want to
make a decision
Therefore good we have heuristics
Given uncertainty in the world heuristics a good thing
2. Message Framing
Framing studied in different disciplines in different ways 
Framing effects in terms of ‘logically equivalent’ information can be communicated
or packaged in different ways 
Prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky) 
People shown to have different preferences and enact different behaviours depending
on framing
- Present information in two different ways. People respond differently.
Peoples responses are impacted by framing
Framing Effects
Kahneman & Tversky 
Principle of invariance 
“Invariance is normatively essential, intuitively compelling, and psychologically
unfeasible” (2000, p.6).
- Intuitive: makes sense people have preferences
- This is a paradox about how we do risk communication
People’s decisions regarding health risks depend on the particular format in which
information is presented, even when the alternative options available are logically
equivalent 
- Find that principles of invariance means
- Pamphlet paper meaning: About which numbers were presented and were not
presented. Brochures did not agree were admitting different information. About what
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