Recent research on health literacy and medical decision making has shown that in most cultures doctors and their patients have severe problems grasping a host of numerical concepts that are prerequisites for understanding and communicating health-relevant risk information. However, there is a dearth of published research comparing risk communication in cultures with different health systems. We present the results of three studies conducted in three different countries (US, Germany, and Spain), which converge to demonstrate that problems associated with risk illiteracy are not simply the result of cognitive biases preventing good decision making. Rather, errors occur because ineffective information formats complicate and mislead adaptive decision makers. In particular, we report the effectiveness of visual aids to enhance risk understanding and communication (Study 1), to eliminate biases such as denominator neglect (Study 2) and errors induced by framed messages (Study 3). We conclude that information formats that exploit people’s inherent capacity to recognize relationships in naturally occurring problems (so-called transparent information formats) can dramatically enhance risk comprehension, communication, and recall and foster better decisions about health regardless of culture. We provide some guidelines for transparent communication of health-relevant information.
Disclosure of Interest None Declared
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