Visual display size and shape impact the accuracy of US adults' health-risk estimates

Charles J. Fitzsimmons, Lauren Woodbury, Jennifer M. Taber, Lauren K. Schiller, Marta K. Mielicki, Pooja G. Sidney, Karin G. Coifman, Clarissa A. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Health risks, when presented as ratios (e.g., two out of seven people), are challenging to understand, but visual displays can foster accurate understanding. We conducted three experiments to test how characteristics of numbers (Experiment 1), icon arrays (Experiments 1, 2, and 3), and number lines (Experiments 1 and 3) influenced people's ability to accurately estimate the risk of experiencing side effects. Participants in each experiment saw smaller- (e.g., 2 out of 7) and larger-component (e.g., 264 out of 924) equivalent ratios in one of three conditions: with number lines only, with icon arrays only, or in the form of Arabic numerals with no accompanying visual. We found that risk estimates were more accurate when presented in 10 × 10 icon arrays, long horizontal 1 × 99 arrays, or number lines. We theorize that hypothetical risks can be estimated more accurately when the display affords easy translation to a percentage.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2341
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • health risk estimates
  • icon arrays
  • number line
  • visual displays

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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