The Value of Visual Aids
We know that many people develop unrealistic expectations about their risks. Sometimes they exaggerate them. Other times, they may minimize their actual probability of suffering some harm.
There can be many reasons for such errors of judgment but, undoubtedly, part of the problem is that any decision about risks is likely to involve both understanding numbers and then putting them in perspective. And at all levels in society, many people just don't feel confident in that arena.
THIS IS NOT JUST A MATTER OF EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND. It can also be a limitation of age, infirmity or possibly not speaking the same language as their doctor. For all of these reasons, professional communicators can greatly help their listeners by using visual aids to help get across the actual numbers involved-along with a meaningful context.
In the same way that simple graphs and pie charts help both experts and beginners understand the relationship of numbers, so too can specially constructed visual aids help the lay public understand the significance of key risk numbers.
We have pioneered two key visual aids for risk communication- the Paling Perspective Scale and the Paling Palette. Both of them are intuitively simple and attractive. They have been welcomed by people in a wide variety of disciplines in many countries across the world.
Opportunities for further research
Like all decision aids designed to improve risk communication, there is an urgent need for impartial researchers to test these tools under controlled conditions. For now, however, we feel that our visual aids represent best practices for the purposes for which they were designed.