Should I Judge Safety or Danger? Perceived Risk Depends on the Question Frame
Linguistic polarity is a natural characteristic of judgments: Is that situation safe/dangerous? How difficult/easy was the task? Is that politician honest/dishonest? Across six studies (N = 1599), we tested how the qualitative frame of the question eliciting a risk judgment influenced risk perception and behavior intention. Using a series of hypothetical scenarios of skiing in avalanche terrain, experienced backcountry skiers judged either how safe or how dangerous each scenario was and indicated whether they would ski the scenario. Phrasing risk judgments in terms of safety elicited lower judged safety values, which in turn resulted in a lower likelihood of intending to ski the slope. The frame “safe” did not evoke a more positive assessment than the frame “danger” as might be expected under a valence-consistent or communication-driven framing effect. This seemingly paradoxical direction of the effect suggests that the question frame directed attention in a way that guided selective information sampling. Uncertainty was not required for this effect as it was observed when judging objectively safe, uncertain, and dangerous scenarios. These findings advance our theoretical understanding of framing effects and can inform the development of practices that harness question framing for applied risk perception and communication.
©American Psychological Association, 2020. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. The final article is available, upon publication, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xap0000354.