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Risk Anal. 2009 Sep;29(9):1255-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01261.x. Epub 2009 Jun 30.

Effect of risk ladder format on risk perception in high- and low-numerate individuals.

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ETH Zurich, Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), Consumer Behavior, Universitätsstrasse 22, CHN J75.2, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Utilizing a random sample from the general population (N= 257), we examined the effect of the radon risk ladder on risk perception, as qualified by respondents' numeracy. The radon risk ladder provides comparative risk information about the radon equivalent of smoking risk. We compared a risk ladder providing smoking risk information with a risk ladder not providing this information. A 2 (numeracy; high, low) x 3 (risk level; high, medium, low) x 2 (smoking risk comparison: with/without) between subjects experimental design was used. A significant (p < 0.045) three-way interaction between format, risk level, and numeracy was identified. Participants with low numeracy skills, as well as participants with high numeracy skills, generally distinguished between low, medium, and high risk levels when the risk ladder with comparative smoking risk information was presented. When the risk ladder without the comparative information about the smoking risk was presented, low-numerate individuals differentiated between risk levels to a much lesser extent than high-numerate individuals did. These results provide empirical evidence that the risk ladder can be a useful tool in enabling people to interpret various risk levels. Additionally, these results allow us to conclude that providing comparative information within a risk ladder is particularly helpful to the understanding of different risk levels by people with low numeracy skills.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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