How to effectively communicate risks to diverse consumers

View or download the full article: 

D. Petrova, R. Garcia-Retamero


Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center, University of Granada, 36-38 Calle Real de Cartuja, Granada, 18071, Spain


The article outlines how to efficiently communicate risks described in numerical values to consumers. The issue is vital and its relevance is related to communication that applies numeric values is an essential part of informing consumers about hazards and advantages of food products; however, a lot of consumers have difficulty perceiving digital information about risks due to various reasons. Consequently, such people assess risks inadequately and can't make well justified decisions based on quantitative information. The authors explain that to remove numerical information and to replace it with verbal description is not advisable as it doesn't allow to solve an issue of efficient risk communication. They also give examples that illustrate how wrong communication tactics can lead to risks aggravation or underestimation. The authors apply certain propositions to prove efficiency of tested risk communication formats, such as standard categories, visual aids, conventional symbols, etc. It was detected that visual aids, or graphic images of information on risks, can eliminate a lot of problems and result in much better understanding of risks and decisions among diverse people. Such means are quite efficient when it comes to people with limited abilities related to perception of linguistic and numerical information, elderly people, highly educated people and population in general. The authors also give some positive examples on how information was adapted for diverse consumers. They come to a conclusion that well-thought-out and transparent risk communication formats that incorporate natural cognitive strategies can make risk communications much easier. Better understanding, in its turn, often leads to conscious decision making by consumers and health-oriented decisions, intentions, and behavior.

consumer products, risk assessment, health risks, informing, risk communications
Petrova D., Garcia-Retamero R. How to effectively communicate risks to diverse consumers. Health Risk Analysis, 2018, no. 4, pp. 114–119. DOI: 10.21668/health.risk/2018.4.13.eng

Galesic M., Garcia-Retamero R. Statistical numeracy for health: A cross-cultural comparison with probabilistic national samples. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010, vol. 170, no. 5, pp. 462–468. DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.481
2. Lipkus I.M. Numeric, Verbal, and Visual Formats of Conveying Health Risks: Suggested Best Practices and Future Recommendations. Medical Decision Making, 2007, vol. 27, pp. 696–713.
3. Garcia-Retamero R., Galesic M. Transparent communication of health risks: Overcoming cultural differences. New York, Springer, 2013, 269 p. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-4358-2
4. Sirota M., Juanchich M., Kostopoulou O., Hanak R. Decisive evidence on a smaller-than-you-think phenomenon: revis-iting the “1-in-X” effect on subjective medical probabilities. Medical Decision Making, 2014, vol. 34, pp. 419–429.
5. Pighin S., Savadori L., Barilli E., Cremonesi L., Ferrari M., Bonnefon J. The 1-in-X Effect on the Subjective Assessment of Medical Probabilities. Medical Decision Making, 2011, vol. 31, pp. 721–729.
6. Gigerenzer G., Galesic M. Why do single event probabilities confuse patients? BMJ: British Medical Journal, 2012, vol. 344, рр. e245. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e245
7. Garcia-Retamero R., Galesic M., Gigerenzer G. Do icon arrays help reduce denominator neglect? Med Decis Making, 2010, vol. 30, pp. 672–684.
8. Okan Y., Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T., Maldonado A. Individual differences in graph literacy: overcoming denom-inator neglect in risk comprehension. J. Behav. Decis. Making., 2012, vol. 25, pp. 390–401.
9. Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T. Communicating health risks with visual aids. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci., 2013, vol. 22, pp. 392–399.
10. Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T. Designing visual aids that promote risk literacy: A systematic review of health research and evidence-based design heuristics. Human Factors, 2017, vol. 59, no. 4, pp. 582–627. DOI: 10.1177/0018720817690634
11. Galesic M., Garcia-Retamero R. Graph literacy: a cross-cultural comparison. Med. Decis. Making., 2011, vol. 31, pp. 444–457.
12. Garcia-Retamero R., Petrova D., Feltz A., Cokely E.T. Measuring Graph Literacy: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis. Oxford University Press. Available at: (16.04.2017).
13. Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T., Ghazal S., Joeris A. Measuring graph literacy without a test: A brief subjective as-sessment. Medical Decision Making, 2016, vol. 36, pp. 854-867.
14. Lipkus I.M., Samsa G., Rimer B.K. General Performance on a Numeracy Scale among Highly Educated Samples. Medical Decision Making, 2001, vol. 21, pp. 37–44.
15. Trevena L.J., Zikmund-Fisher B.J., Edwards A., Gaissmaier W., Galesic M., Han P.K., [et al]. Presenting quantitative information about decision outcomes: a risk communication primer for patient decision aid developers. BMC medical informatics and decision making, 2013, vol. 13, pp. S7.
16. Garcia-Retamero R., Galesic M. Communicating Treatment Risk Reduction to People With Low Numeracy Skills: A Cross-Cultural Comparison. Am. J. Public. Health., 2009, vol. 99, pp. 2196–2202.
17. Fagerlin A., Zikmund-Fisher B.J., Ubel P.A., Jankovic A., Derry H.A., Smith D.M. Measuring numeracy without a math test: development of the Subjective Numeracy Scale. Med. Decis. Making, 2007, vol. 27, pp. 672–680.
18. Petrova D., Kostopoulou O., Delaney B., Cokely E.T., Garcia-Retamero R. Strengths and gaps in physicians' risk communication: A scenario study of the influence of numeracy on cancer screening communication. Medical Decision Making, 2018, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 355–365. DOI: 10.1177/0272989X17729359
19. Schwartz L.M., Woloshin S., Black W.C., Welch H.G. The role of numeracy in understanding the benefit of screening mammography. Ann Int. Med., 1997, vol.127, pp. 966–972.
20. Weller J.A., Dieckmann N.F., Tusler M., Mertz C., Burns W.J., Peters E. Development and testing of an abbreviated numeracy scale: A rasch analysis approach. J. Behav. Decis. Making., 2013, vol. 26, pp. 198–212.
21. Cokely E.T., Galesic M., Schulz E., Ghazal S., Garcia-Retamero R. Measuring Risk Literacy: The Berlin Numeracy Test. Judg Decis. Making., 2012, vol. 7, pp. 25–47.
22. Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T., Wicki B., Joeris A. Improving risk literacy in surgeons. Patient Educ Couns, 2016, vol. 99, pp. 1156–1161.
23. Petrova D., Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T. Understanding the harms and benefits of cancer screening: a model of factors that shape informed decision making. Med. Decis. Making., 2015, vol. 35, pp. 847–858.
24. Petrova D., Garcia-Retamero R., Catena A., van der Pligt J. To screen or not to screen: What factors influence complex screening decisions? J. Exp. Psychol. Appl., 2016, vol. 22, pp. 247–260.
25. Garcia-Retamero R., Cokely E.T. The influence of skills, message frame, and visual aids on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. J. Behav. Decis. Making., 2014, vol. 27, pp. 179–189.


You are here