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.

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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Impaired driving: Media is helping!

When reporters explain the causes of a collision and emphasize on drivers’ choices, they are also educating the public on how to prevent crashes, injuries, or fatalities. In fact, experimental studies have demonstrated that this type of journalism produces positive changes in the public’s perception of the problem.

Last week, I was glad to see that an impaired driving conviction was generously covered by the media and even made the front page of local newspapers1. In particular, Matt Kieltyka’s piece exhibited traits of what experts consider good road accident journalism: it contained a detailed description of the event, including its human context, antecedents, the aftermath, and it explained how drinking and driving led to the death of a little girl1.

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Evaluating road safety campaigns: success comes with failure

Many campaign evaluations focus only on one side of the issue: message acceptance. That is, they only measure how the message positively changed self-reported attitudes, intentions or behaviour. However, most evaluations pay little attention to message rejection―the extent to which the message fails.

Initiatives to educate drivers and promote road safety are not scarce in British Columbia. Right now, there are at least seven communication campaigns that focus on different issues: drinking and driving, intersections, speeding, high school speakers, cell phone use, child seats, and young drivers1, 2. Considering the effort and money spent in these programs, it is important to measure how effective they are.

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Re: Can YOU stop impaired driving?

The “benefits of [a sobriety check] campaign may not depend on drivers’ being personally exposed to a checkpoint, but rather on their knowing that others have.” Thus, local media can aid sobriety check campaigns, by announcing how many have been checked and how many didn’t pass. Media coverage, in turn, will increase the perceived risks of being caught in by the police.

This is a blog response to the post “Can YOU stop impaired driving?” in which Sergeant Tim Burrows calls for ideas on how to tackle this problem. Here, I present my two cents:

First, don’t use threats of physical harm or death in your communications, because this kind of message is not effective with the target groups for which it is intended: male drivers and sensation seekers (this term refers to a personality trait that is associated with risk-taking and impaired driving)1, 2. Moreover, some studies suggest that these messages can be counterproductive, because they induce denial (“this won’t happen to me”) and self-enhancement attitudes (“I am a better driver than the people in the ad”).

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Gulf of Mexico disaster may distort perception about risks of oil tanker traffic

The port cities committee of Metro Vancouver will evaluate the risks of the increasing oil tanker traffic in the region1. This is great news! I praise the city council’s foresight and interest in the issue. At the same time, I fear that the assessment might be distorted by the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Lions Gate Bridge
Photo by Tak Ishikawa

The port cities committee of Metro Vancouver will evaluate the risks of the increasing oil tanker traffic in the region1. This is great news! And I praise the city council’s foresight and interest in the issue. At the same time, I fear that the assessment might be distorted by the current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines

Although the scientific paper that spawned fear of vaccines was officially retracted in February 2010 1, many parents are still reluctant to immunize their children. Yes, the anti-vaccination movement is still alive and kicking 2, and the paper is far from being retracted in the arena of public opinion 3. Why is this happening?

Although the scientific paper that spawned fear of vaccines was officially retracted in February 20101, many parents are still reluctant to immunize their children. Yes, the anti-vaccination movement is still alive and kicking 2, and the paper is far from being retracted in the arena of public opinion 3. Why is this happening?

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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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