Understanding the positive effects of graphical risk information on comprehension: measuring attention directed to written, tabular, and graphical risk information.

C.M.R. Smerecnik*, I. Mesters, L.T. Kessels, R.A.C. Ruiter, N.K. de Vries, H. de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Risk communications are an integral aspect of health education and promotion. However, the commonly used textual risk information is relatively difficult to understand for the average recipient. Consequently, researchers and health promoters have started to focus on so-called decision aids, such as tables and graphs. Although tabular and graphical risk information more effectively communicate risks than textual risk information, the cognitive mechanisms responsible for this enhancement are unclear. This study aimed to examine two possible mechanisms (i.e., cognitive workload and attention). Cognitive workload (mean pupil size and peak pupil dilation) and attention directed to the risk information (viewing time, number of eye fixations, and eye fixation durations) were both measured in a between-subjects experimental design. The results suggest that graphical risk information facilitates comprehension of that information because it attracts and holds attention for a longer period of time than textual risk information. Graphs are thus a valuable asset to risk communication practice for two reasons: first, they tend to attract attention and, second, when attended to, they elicit information extraction with relatively little cognitive effort, and finally result in better comprehension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1387-1398
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

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