Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Visiting speaker: Rocío García-Retamero, University of Granada, Spain

Date and time: Monday, Mar 9, 4:00pm, room C217.

Title: “Where are we going wrong? Evidence on communicating probabilistic information"

Over the past years, numerical skills have become increasingly necessary for navigating the modern health care environment. Unfortunately, many people struggle to grasp numerical concepts that are essential for understanding health-relevant information. In short, the general public lacks basic numeracy, which limits their risk literacythe ability to accurately interpret and make good decisions based on information about risk (see In this talk, I will present a collection of studies investigating three research questions. This research involves more than 5000 participants from 60 countries and diverse walks of life (e.g., medical professionals, patients, general populations, web panels). First, I will present research investigating how helpful numbers are when communicating risks. This research converges to suggest that a significant proportion of the population has problems understanding even very simple numerical expressions of probability about health. Second, I will present research investigating whether numeracy predicts health outcomes. This research shows that compared to patients with high numeracy, patients with low numeracy showed higher prevalence of comorbidity. Of note, these conclusions hold after controlling for the effect of demographics and risk factors, suggesting that numeracy is uniquely related to important health outcomes. Finally, I will present the results of several interventions showing that well-designed visual aids (1) help individuals with low in numeracy make more accurate assessments of information about treatment risk reduction, and (2) help promote shared decision making and healthy behaviors. I conclude that appropriately designed visual aids can be highly effective, transparent, and ethically desirable tools for improving risk communication, limiting the influence of different levels of numeracy. Theoretical mechanisms, open questions, and emerging applications of this research will be discussed.

Dr. María del Rocío García Retamero Imedio is Associate Professor in the Experimental Psychology Department, and Senior Member of the Learning, Emotion, and Decision Research Group at the University of Granada. She is also Associate Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and Affiliated Professor and Researcher at the Michigan Technological University. Dr. Garcia-Retamero is recipient of 10 major research awards, including the American Psychological Association’s 2012 Raymond S. Nickerson Best Paper Award and the prize of the University of Granada for the best paper in 2012 in Social and Behavioral Sciences for her work on risk communication. Dr. Garcia-Retamero is an expert in risk perception and the psychology of health decision making. She has published 100 papers on the topic in top-ranking journals in Medicine and Psychology. Dr. Garcia-Retamero has published 2 academic books. In “Transparent communication of health risks: Overcoming cultural differences” (2013), she shows that informed medical decision making heavily reinforced these days by the legal requirements for informed consent critically depends on communication of quantitative medical information. In her research, Dr. Garcia-Retamero has shown that in most cultures doctors and patients have severe problems grasping a host of numerical concepts that are prerequisites for understanding and communicating health-relevant risk information. She conducted a wide range of studies in more than 60 different countries, which converge to demonstrate that problems associated with risk illiteracy are not simply the result of cognitive biases preventing good decision making. Rather, errors occur because ineffective information formats complicate and mislead adaptive decision makers. Her studies document that information formats that exploit people’s inherent capacity to recognize relationships in naturally occurring problems (so-called transparent information formats) can dramatically enhance risk comprehension, communication, and recall and foster better decisions about health especially in patients with limited numeracy. Dr. Garcia-Retamero has worked extensively for several international companies in the design of decision aids to maximize risk understanding across diverse populations. She has also trained physicians and nurses in risk understanding and medical decision making in 11 countries.


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