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Using risk model judgements to better understand perceptions of synergistic risks



Numerous scientific studies show that risk factors can interact to synergistically increase the likelihood of certain adverse and life-threatening outcomes. Yet, the extent to which individuals know that specific risk factor combinations present ‘synergistic risks’ is unclear and little is known about the determinants of such knowledge. This is largely because epistemological progress concerning this topic has been frustrated by a reliance on metrics that have latterly been judged to be of questionable validity. To address this issue, this paper presents two studies that assess an alternative approach (i.e., risk model judgements) which requires respondents to judge the risk for a factor combination relative to, rather than in isolation from, the risk attributable to each constituent factor. Results from both studies indicate that risk model judgements overcome the drawbacks of traditional metrics. More importantly, the results provide epistemological insights into what can determine whether an individual understands that a factor combination presents a synergistic risk; these determinants include experiential and intuitive insights into the effects of combining specific risk factors, domain-specific judgemental experience and exposure to effective learning opportunities. These findings can be utilized in interventions aimed at helping individuals to make better decisions concerning multiple risk factors.