Further insight into the perception of quantitative information: judgments of gist in treatment decisions

Med Decis Making. 2007 Jan-Feb;27(1):34-43. doi: 10.1177/0272989X06297101.


Purpose: To compare relative accuracy and relative response times (RTs) as well as impact of foreground and background colors in a treatment decision context of judging larger/smaller when the following elements are added to the graphics studied previously: 1) a number (the displayed percentage), 2) a referent scale, and 3) a number and a referent scale.

Method: An experiment compared pie charts, vertical bars, horizontal bars, digits, systematic ovals, and random ovals. On each trial, participants saw 2 percentages (in 1 format) and were asked to choose the larger chance of survival or the smaller chance of side effects. Outcomes were errors and RT. Formats were either black and white or blue and yellow; background color was either white or blue. Participants were 216 volunteers from the community older than 50 years.

Results: Formats with a number produced the same relative errors and relative RT as the formats with a number and scale. Formats with only a scale, however, shifted relative performance: Errors increased with more difficult formats (pie charts and random ovals by 3%-4% v. approximately 1% with other formats), but RT decreased with easier formats (vertical bars, horizontal bars, and systematic ovals decreased 100-200 ms v. an increase of 0-300 ms with other formats). Vertical bars with scales were the fastest and most accurately processed. Neither foreground nor background color had any impact on either outcome.

Conclusions: For supporting older people's judgments of relative extent, risk information is best presented using vertical bars with a scale; the format systematic ovals with a scale are among the next most easily processed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*