Natural Frequencies Do Not Foster Public Understanding of Medical Test Results


  • Pighin Stefania
  • Gonzalez Michel
  • Savadori Lucia
  • Girotto Vittorio

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Major organizations recommend presenting medical test results in terms of natural frequencies, rather than single-event probabilities. The evidence, however, is that natural frequency presentations benefit at most one-fifth of samples of health service users and patients. Only one study reported a substantial benefit of these presentations. Here, we replicate that study, testing online survey respondents. Study 1 attributed the previously reported benefit of natural frequencies to a scoring artifact. Study 2 showed that natural frequencies may elicit evaluations that conflict with the normatively correct one, potentially hindering informed decision making. Ironically, these evaluations occurred less often when respondents reasoned about single-event probabilities. These results suggest caution in promoting natural frequencies as the best way to communicate medical test data to health service users and patients.

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