Risk, Decision and Policy


Technical Paper

Theoretical and applied issues in the provision of absolute and comparative risk information


PETER   HARRIS  a1, PAUL   SPARKS  a2 and MONIQUE   RAATS  a3
a1 Centre for Research in Social Attitudes, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TP, UK. E-mail: p.harris@sheffield.ac.uk
a2 University of Sussex UK
a3 University of Surrey UK

Abstract

Klein (1997) found that participants were more influenced by information about their comparative risk standing than information about their absolute risk standing. If reliable, these findings have important implications for understanding and improving risk communication. In this paper we report the findings of several unsuccessful attempts by us to replicate Klein's findings in the UK, using one of his experimental paradigms, and discuss the findings of other recent attempts to replicate his work. Findings are inconsistent from study to study but, overall, provide some evidence that people respond to comparative and not just to absolute risk information. Issues that need to be addressed systematically in future research include: the ambiguity of absolute information, proportional differences in risk magnitude, cross-cultural and individual differences in preferences for social comparison information, and the systematic exploration of responses to absolute and comparative risk information in real choice situations.