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Do colored cells in risk matrices affect decision-making and risk perception? Insights from randomized controlled studies.

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Recchia, Gabriel 
Dryhurst, Sarah 
Freeman, Alexandra LJ 


Risk matrices communicate the likelihood and potential impact of risks and are often used to inform decision-making around risk mitigations. The merits and demerits of risk matrices in general have been discussed extensively, yet little attention has been paid to the potential influence of color in risk matrices on their users. We draw from fuzzy-trace theory and hypothesize that when color is present, individuals are likely to place greater value on reducing risks that cross color boundaries (i.e., the boundary-crossing effect), leading to sub-optimal decision making. In two randomized controlled studies, employing forced-choice and willingness-to-pay measures to investigate the boundary-crossing effect in two different color formats for risk matrices, we find preliminary evidence to support our hypotheses that color can influence decision making. The evidence also suggests that the boundary-crossing effect is only present in, or is stronger for, higher numeracy individuals. We therefore recommend that designers should consider avoiding color in risk matrices, particularly in situations where these are likely to be used by highly numerate individuals, if the communication goal is to inform in an unbiased way.


Funder: Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication


Risk matrix, bias, color, decision making, fuzzy-trace theory, impact, likelihood, numeracy, risk communication, Humans, Communication, Probability, Research Design, Perception, Decision Making

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Risk Anal

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