The Psychometric Paradigm Meets The Real World. A View on Risk Perception Psychology and Risk Communication from a Former Journalist

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The challenge of effectively communicating risks and benefits in the area of personal health is complex. Much attention is rightly focused on the tasks of making information clear, and coping with problems of numeracy. But a more profound challenge lies at the heart of this type of risk communication; the challenge of understanding the underlying psychological patterns by which people interpret risk information, and applying that understanding to communicating risk information in ways that are relevant to the affective realities of the patient. Human risk perception is composed of several cognitive components. Some involve conscious reasoning. Others involve subconscious affective responses based not solely on the facts but also on feelings, instincts, values, and life circumstances. The Psychometric Paradigm research of Paul Slovic et. al., and 25 years of experience as a journalist reporting on risk issues, has helped identify key characteristics of risk circumstances that subconsciously raise or lower the degree of concern about the threat. These will be explained and offered as insights into how to communicate about risk more effectively.
Paper presented at the 1st International Symposium on Understanding Health Benefits and Risks: Empowering Patients and Citizens. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. May 29, 2009