Judged frequency of lethal events

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A series of 5 experiments with 660 adult Ss studied how people judge the frequency of death from various causes. The judgments exhibited a highly consistent but systematically biased subjective scale of frequency. Two kinds of bias were identified: (a) a tendency to overestimate small frequencies and underestimate larger ones; and (b) a tendency to exaggerate the frequency of some specific causes and to underestimate the frequency of others, at any given level of objective frequency. These biases were traced to a number of possible sources, including disproportionate exposure, memorability, or imaginability of various events. Ss were unable to correct for these sources of bias when specifically instructed to avoid them. Comparisons with previous laboratory studies are discussed, along with methods for improving frequency judgments and the implications of the present findings for the management of societal hazards. (36 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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