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The effect of information lay‐out on risk comprehension, risk perception, perceived reader friendliness and preference : the evidence map as a tool for risk communication

Wingerden, A.M. van (2009) The effect of information lay‐out on risk comprehension, risk perception, perceived reader friendliness and preference : the evidence map as a tool for risk communication.

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Abstract:People have difficulties comprehending complex scientific risks. However, knowledge about these risks is very important to live safely in today’s society. The evidence map was designed as a tool to comprehend the information about (potential) risks better and faster. This study tested the value of an evidence map next to a narrative text and a combination of text and evidence map for risk comprehension, risk perception, perceived reader friendliness and preference for a specific lay‐out. The study conducted an experiment by including two types of risks (exposure of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and children’s health disturbances and exposure of EMF and carcinogenicity) as a within subjects factor and three types of information lay‐out (narrative text, evidence map and a combination of text and map) as a between subjects factor. An amount of 118 participants were randomly assigned to one of the six experimental conditions and filled out a questionnaire. Chi‐squares and ANOVA’s indicated that participant’s characteristics (demographic characteristics, level of reading speed, level of prior knowledge and level of prior risk perception) were equally distributed among the conditions and therefore were comparable except for age. ANOVA’s showed that this did not influence the results, except for processing time and the amount of scientific knowledge. The results indicated that the beneficial effect of the evidence map was limited for risk comprehension for both risks. Participants using the evidence map did not process the information better or faster than participants using the narrative text which was in contradiction with propositions of the Mental Model Theory and the Assimilation Theory. However, a small effect size of processing time indicated that participants using the evidence map could significantly process the information faster when more participants were included. Also the principles of the Active Processing Model could not be confirmed, because participant using a text did not perform better than participants using the map. However, a large majority of the participants significantly preferred evidence maps as tools for communicating controversial risk information. Surprisingly, this was not completely underpinned by the findings regarding perceived reader friendliness. Although participants judged the evidence map as shorter, better in limiting the essential information and containing simpler sentences, the text was judged as clearer and more fluently. Also Börner, Schütz and Wiedemann (2009) found that the evidence map was less fluent and contained simpler sentences. Therefore, these characteristics can be considered as stable for each type of information layout, because they were found for three types of risks. Although participants judged the information lay‐outs differently, this did not result in significant differences in risk perception between the lay‐outs. This was found for all six aspects of risk perception for both risks. Although the main objective of the evidence map (enhancing comprehension) was not achieved, people strongly favour the supply of information presented by the evidence map. Risk communicators could be recommended to use evidence maps as tools for communicating about risks. Improvements of the design of the evidence map regarding fluentness and clarity could result in enhancing the level of perceived reader friendliness. Furthermore, adding the concept of hierarchical tree diagrams in combination with the evidence map could be used to create a graphical overview that facilitates the comprehension of controversial scientific information.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Forschungszentrum Jülich
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:05 communication studies
Programme:Communication Studies MSc (60713)
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