Examining Insensitivity to Probability in Evidence-Based Communication of Relative Risks: The Role of Affect and Communication Format

Claire Louise Heard*, Tim Rakow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Affect can influence judgments of event riskiness and use of risk-related information. Two studies (Ns: 85 and 100) examined the insensitivity-to-probability effect—where people discount probability information when scenarios are affect-rich—applying it to evidence-informed risk communication. We additionally investigated whether this effect is moderated by format, based on predictions from the evaluability and pattern-recognition literatures, suggesting that graphical formats may attenuate insensitivity to probability. Participants completed a prior beliefs questionnaire (Study 1), and risk perception booklet (both studies) that presented identical statistical information about the relative risks associated with two scenarios—one with an affect-rich outcome, the other an affect-poorer outcome. In Study 1, this was presented graphically. In Study 2, information was presented in one of three formats: written, tabular, or graphical. Participants provided their perceptions of the risk for each scenario at a range of risk-levels. The affect-rich scenario was perceived as higher in risk, and, importantly, despite presenting identical relative risk information in both scenarios, was associated with a reduced sensitivity to probability information (both studies). These differences were predicted by participants’ prior beliefs concerning the scenario events (Study 1) and were larger for the single-item written format than graphical format (Study 2). The findings illustrate that insensitivity to probability information can occur in evidence-informed risk communications and highlight how communication format can moderate this effect. This interplay between affect and format therefore reflects an important consideration for information designers and researchers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2145-2159
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number10
Early online date27 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Affect
  • information format
  • insensitivity-to-probability effect
  • risk communication
  • risk perception
  • sensitivity to probabilities


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