One-week recall of health risk information and individual differences in attention to bar charts

18 Jun 2018

Presenting personalised health risk information can support lifestyle decisions and help patients make informed choices about treatments. The way such information is presented can influence how well it is understood, and supplementary graphical representations have been shown to be helpful. However, there are little data on longer term recall of risk-related messages presented graphically and on the attention paid to graphics by those trying to interpret risk-related messages. This article draws on two studies in the United Kingdom of risk information recall. In study 1, participants aged 40-65 (N = 570) were given hypothetical personal cardiac risk information via a website, either numerically or supplemented with different types of bar chart. Participants' recall of the key messages of the communication was assessed 1 week later. Bar charts led to greater recall of a key risk message only among the most numerate participants. Study 2 examined the extent to which participants made use of the graphics in interpreting the numerical information using concurrent verbal protocols. Expert (N = 16 practice nurses) and non-expert (N = 16 general public) participants who read numerical information from the graphics were also more likely to make direct interpretations of the numerical information. The 1-week recall findings from study 1 contrasted with recent empirical findings that graphics aid understanding in lesser numerate individuals. The observational data from study 2 indicated the presence of individual differences in the ways people used graphics to interpret risk information. A closer examination is required of the ways people use descriptive graphical tools when interpreting risk information, and the effect this has on recall of key messages. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.