Study: How to judge personal health risks

August 8, 2005

Researchers say people can pretty well judge personal health risks if they don't rely on media reports and stick to what's happened to people they know.

Psychologist Ralph Hertwig of the University of Basel in Switzerland said his team's findings challenge the assumption people make huge blunders when inferring the likelihood of such events as dying of a heart attack or in a car accident.

"People can arrive at relatively accurate estimates as long as they rely on their personal experiences of the frequencies of such events ... by thinking of how many of their relatives, friends and acquaintances died from these causes.

"However, when they start sampling from the virtual world as created by the mass media, they are more likely to arrive at distorted estimates of likelihood."

For example, he said people might erroneously conclude the death toll due to airplane crashes is greater than due to more typical causes such as asthma.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, which is published by the Washington-based American Psychological Association.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Explore further: Six tips to improve search results

Related Stories

'Hypercarnivores' kept massive ancient herbivores in check

October 26, 2015

When the largest modern-day plant-eaters—elephants—are confined to too small an area, they devastate the vegetation. So 15,000 years ago, when the herbivores like the Columbian mammoth, mastodons and giant ground sloths ...

Getting the lead out

September 22, 2015

Caltech geochemist Clair Patterson (1922–1995) helped galvanize the environmental movement 50 years ago when he announced that highly toxic lead could be found essentially everywhere on Earth, including in our own bodies—and ...

One person dead and 19 injured by Nebraska tornadoes

June 17, 2014

A powerful storm with tornadoes ripped through northeast Nebraska on Monday, destroying more than half of the tiny town of Pilger, killing a 5-year-old child and injuring at least 19 people, hospital and emergency officials ...

Recommended for you

Physicists develop new technique to fathom 'smart' materials

November 26, 2015

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and Leiden University have found a way to better understand the properties of manmade 'smart' materials. Their method reveals how stacked layers in such a material work together to bring ...

Nevada researchers trying to turn roadside weed into biofuel

November 26, 2015

Three decades ago, a University of Nevada researcher who obtained one of the first U.S. Energy Department grants to study the potential to turn plants into biofuels became convinced that a roadside weed—curly top gumweed—was ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.