Comparison-Induced Distortion of Probability

Abstract

We investigated the role of Comparison-Induced Distortion (CID) in the representation of risk. Providing comparison risks has been shown to affect risk perception: one’s own risk seems higher when higher than the average risk (Klein, 1997) and lower when lower than average, independent of objective risk level. In two studies, we examined the effects of a verbal comparison (e.g. “a higher chance”) on recall of probabilities very close or far apart in magnitude. We found that compared probabilities further apart than the difference suggested by comparison language are recalled as closer together (the higher risk recalled as lower, the lower risk recalled as higher), and those closer together than this difference are recalled as further apart (the higher risk recalled as higher, the lower risk as lower). Further, we found that participants’ recall for their gender’s risk levels flipped as a result of this distortion: the objectively lower probability was recalled as higher than the objectively higher probability. Diagnoses of a person of the same gender followed probability recall. Together, these studies demonstrate that the effect of comparison on risk representation depends on the magnitude of the difference between compared probabilities.


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