Visual aids improve diagnostic inferences and metacognitive judgment calibration

Frontiers in Psychology 6:136977 (2015)
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Abstract

Visual aids can improve comprehension of risks associated with medical treatments, screenings, and lifestyles. Do visual aids also help decision makers accurately assess their risk comprehension? That is, do visual aids help them become well calibrated? To address these questions, we investigated the benefits of visual aids displaying numerical information and measured accuracy of self-assessment of diagnostic inferences (i.e., metacognitive judgment calibration) controlling for individual differences in numeracy. Participants included 108 patients who made diagnostic inferences about three medical tests on the basis of information about the sensitivity and false-positive rate of the tests and disease prevalence. Half of the patients received the information in numbers without a visual aid, while the other half received numbers along with a grid representing the numerical information. In the numerical condition, many patients --especially those with low numeracy-- misinterpreted the predictive value of the tests and profoundly overestimated the accuracy of their inferences. Metacognitive judgment calibration mediated the relationship between numeracy and accuracy of diagnostic inferences. In contrast, in the visual aid condition, patients at all levels of numeracy showed high-levels of inferential accuracy and metacognitive judgment calibration. Results indicate that accurate metacognitive assessment may explain the beneficial effects of visual aids and numeracy --a result that accords with theory suggesting that metacognition is an essential part of risk literacy. We conclude that well-designed risk communications can inform patients about health-relevant numerical information while helping them assess the quality of their own risk comprehension.

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