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London Judgment and Decision Making Seminar

Marie Juanich (University of Essex)

Improving uncertainty and risk communication. Review of recent findings with applications in health, climate change and weather forecasting.

In most aspects of our life, uncertainty communication is critical for making informed decisions. The main problem, however, is that it comes in many forms and has a great scope for misunderstandings and biases. In my talk, I will provide an overview of my recent studies and argue that although there is no single best way to communicate uncertainty there might be a set of questions that can guide effective uncertainty communication. (1) Is it beneficial to recipients to convey this uncertainty? People tend to prefer being certain to being uncertain, but as uncertainty can trigger indecision there is a trade-off between certainty, the precision of the event predicted, and the accuracy of the prediction. (2) What do you really want to say? Uncertainty quantifiers are not always used to convey uncertainty; they can also be used to smooth social relationships. Knowing our level of uncertainty and the kind of uncertainty we want to communicate may help to choose the right words. (3) Words or numbers (and their implications)? If your uncertainty is not rooted in frequencies of past events or models, it could be better communicated in words which better accounts for subjective uncertainty. Words are vague but they have some useful pragmatic functions such as to influence decision or “leak” extra information. On average, people consistently interpret the meaning of uncertainty words, but the same person interprets uncertainty differently depending on whether they formulate a prediction or receive it. If your uncertainty is precise enough, you could use numbers, but choose which numerical format with care, because some formats lead to specific biases (e.g., ratios) and misperceptions (e.g., trend effects). I will close by discussing the next steps forward in the area of uncertainty communication by focusing on under-researched areas of uncertainty communication and new methodologies.