April 10, 2012
The test works twice as well as previous methods and only takes three minutes. Traditional tests, which tend to determine general cognitive capacities, like intelligence or attention control, provide little information about a person’s risk competency. A high level of intelligence does not necessarily mean that the person is equally skilled in all areas. “My doctor may be very intelligent, but that does not mean that she can repair my car particularly well or can fill out my tax return,” explains Cokely.
To develop their tests, the psychologist and his colleagues carried out experiments with several thousand subjects in North America, Europe and Asia. The test participants had to complete tasks from different areas. For example, 300 participants in a sub-study in Berlin were faced with psychological tasks that were intended to establish, among other things, their personal emotional stability, general life-satisfaction and exam anxiety. They also had to interpret information about risks. “We wanted to find out how well they understand weather forecasts, for example,” says Cokely.
It emerged from these tests that highly-educated individuals often also have difficulty interpreting information on risk probabilities. “However, if we want to have educated citizens who make decisions based on information, we need people who understand information about risks,” explains the scientist. Seen in this way, risk intelligence is just as important a skill as reading and writing. “Fortunately,” he adds, “it can also be learned.” In fact, as the researchers discovered over the five years of testing various tasks, risk intelligence is closely linked with mathematical skills. They designed their test accordingly: all three tasks are based on the field of percentage calculation.