Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

May 1999


Published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs, No. 25 (1999), pp. 44-51. © 1999 Oxford University Press. Used by permission.


The communication of risk information is a fundamental aspect of nearly all health promotion interventions. However, no consensus exists regarding the most effective way to provide people with risk information. We will review and evaluate the relative merits of two approaches to risk communication. One approach relies on the presentation of numerical information regarding the probability of a health problem occurring, whereas the other relies on the presentation of information about the antecedents and consequences of a health problem. Because people have considerable difficulty understanding and using quantitative information, the effectiveness of interventions that rely solely on numerical probability information has been limited. Interventions that provide people with a broader informational context in which to think about a health problem have had greater success systematically influencing perceptions of personal risk but have several important limitations. However, before any final conclusions can be drawn regarding the relative merits of different communication strategies, investigators must agree on the specific criteria that should be used to identify an effective intervention. [Monogr Natl Cancer Inst 1999;25:44-51]