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Are you Risk Literate?

Filed in Research News ,Tools
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We’ve written before about the challenges of communicating risks. Can people understand the risks inherent in their savings plans, loans, surgeries, or medications? This week, researchers have published a new instrument designed to very quickly assess exactly that (www.riskliteracy.org).

We introduce the Berlin Numeracy Test, a new psychometrically sound instrument that quickly assesses statistical numeracy and risk literacy. We present 21 studies (n=5336) showing robust psychometric discriminability across 15 countries (e.g., Germany, Pakistan, Japan, USA) and diverse samples (e.g., medical professionals, general populations, Mechanical Turk web panels).

The authors report that the test is the strongest predictor of comprehension of many everyday risks (e.g., evaluating claims about products and treatments; interpreting forecasts) doubling the predictive power of dozens of other commonly used tools (e.g., intelligence, personality, motivation, decision styles). They argue that by quickly assessing risk literacy and statistical numeracy, researchers can adaptively deliver more accessible information about risks in health, finance, and technology.

For example, after a couple questions people might get interactive brochures that are custom-tailored for their skill set. Alternatively, doctors, financial advisors, and lawyers might use similar fast tests to get a sense of the appropriate level of discourse for their diverse clients. The test can also be used to simply learn more about one’s own risk literacy.

To take the test go to www.riskliteracy.org and in about 2-3 minutes you’ll get feedback about your levels of risk literacy as compared to educated people and professionals from around the world.


  1. Jesse Fagan says:

    “Technically, relative to the general population, you are among the most statistically literate in the world.”

    I’m sure the readership of this blog are almost all in this category though.

    February 4, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  2. Jeff Galak says:

    Hey Dan,

    I’m not so sure about the validity of the test (at least the one posted online). The wording of the questions is quite confusing. For example:

    “The probability that the die shows a 6 is twice as high as the probability of each of the other numbers.

    On average, out of these 70 throws how many times would the die show the number 6?”

    Does that mean that the probability of the 6 is twice as high as the summed probability of each of the individual other numbers, or that the 6 is twice as likely as each other number on its own? If you assume the question means that 6 comes up twice as much as each other number individually, then 6 comes up about 28.57% of the time. If you assume that 6 comes up twice as much as any other number, then 6 comes up 66.6% of the time.

    February 4, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

  3. Daniel Reeves says:

    @Jeff, I feel like the “each” disambiguates it. Otherwise you’d expect some kind of “in aggregate” or “combined” or, like you said, “summed”, or something. Plus, when they then ask about 70 throws that’s a strong hint since the “each on its own” interpretation yields a nice integer answer.

    The fact that you grok the distinction probably puts you in the statistically literate club anyway though. 🙂

    February 6, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

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