The impact of numeracy on reactions to different graphic risk presentation formats: An experimental analogue study

Br J Health Psychol. 2009 Feb;14(Pt 1):107-25. doi: 10.1348/135910708X304432. Epub 2008 Apr 26.


Objectives: Numeracy, the ability to process basic mathematical concepts, may affect responses to graphical displays of health risk information. Displays of probabilistic risk information using grouped dots are easier to understand than displays using dispersed dots. However, dispersed dots may better convey the randomness with which health threats occur, so increasing perceived susceptibility. We hypothesized that low numeracy participants would better understand risks presented using grouped dot displays, while high numeracy participants would have good understanding, regardless of display type. Moreover, we predicted that dispersed dot displays, in contrast to grouped dot displays, would increase risk perceptions and worry only for highly numerate individuals.

Design and method: One hundred and forty smokers read vignettes asking them to imagine being at risk of Crohn's disease, in a 2(display type: dispersed/grouped dots) x 3(risk magnitude: 3%/6%/50%) x 2(numeracy: high/low) design. They completed measures of risk comprehension, perceived susceptibility and worry.

Results: More numerate participants had better objective risk comprehension, but this effect was not moderated by display type. There was marginally significant support for the predicted numeracy x display type interaction for worry about Crohn's disease, but not for perceived susceptibility to the condition.

Conclusions: Dispersed dot displays somewhat increase worry in highly numerate individuals, but only numeracy influenced objective risk comprehension. The most effective display type for communicating risk information will depend on the numeracy of the population and the goal(s) of the communication.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Computer Graphics*
  • Crohn Disease / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology*