Risk taking is a matter of format

Risk-taking is often associated with the character of a person. However, researchers have demonstrated that this behaviour greatly depends on the way people are presented a decision problem: most people decide to take risks when they face choices with negative outcomes (injuries), and choose safer options when they face positive consequences (dancing in the prom). Consequently, road safety, health promotion and injury prevention campaigns should convey risks in positive terms, and avoid communicating negative outcomes.

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Risk-taking is often associated with the character of a person: some individuals are considered risk-takers and are said to lead risk-taking lives1. However, researchers have demonstrated that this behaviour greatly depends on the way people are presented a decision problem2, 3, 4. Indeed, most people decide to take risks when they face choices with negative outcomes3, 4 such as diseases or injuries. Conversely, most individuals choose safer options when they face positive consequences3, 4 like “dancing in the prom” or “playing with my children”.

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The psychology of the anti-vaccination movement

In the last decade, parents in the whole world have come to believe that the risks associated to the use of vaccines are greater than the dangers of the diseases themselves. In the first minute of this clip, Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick explain why many parents were so easily dissuaded from vaccinating their kids.

In the last decade, parents in the whole world have come to believe that the risks associated to the use of vaccines are greater than the dangers of the diseases themselves. In the first minute of this clip, Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick explain why many parents were so easily dissuaded from vaccinating their kids. Their account is consistent with psychological research on decision making:

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Ideas on risk communication

A review of the literature on road safety, injury prevention and medical decision-making provides two important principles in risk communication: (1) fear is counterproductive, and (2) format and graphic design affect people’s choices.

A review of the literature on road safety, injury prevention and medical decision-making provides two important ideas for risk communication: (1) fear is counterproductive, and (2) format and graphic design affect people’s choices.

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