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Enhancing Understanding and Recall of Quantitative Information about Medical Risks: A Cross-Cultural Comparison between Germany and Spain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2013

Rocio Garcia-Retamero*
Universidad de Granada (Spain)
Mirta Galesic
Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Germany)
Gerd Gigerenzer
Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Germany)
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rocio Garcia-Retamero. Departamento de Psicologia Experimental, Facultad de Psicologia. Universidad de Granada. Campus Universitario de Cartuja s/n. 18071 Granada. (Spain). Phone: +34-958246240, Fax: +34-958246239. E-mail:


In two experiments, we analyzed cross-cultural differences in understanding and recalling information about medical risks in two countries—Germany and Spain—whose students differ substantially in their quantitative literacy according to the 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA; OECD, 2003, 2010). We further investigated whether risk understanding can be enhanced by using visual aids (Experiment 1), and whether different ways of describing risks affect recall (Experiment 2). Results showed that Spanish students are more vulnerable to misunderstanding and forgetting the risk information than their German counterparts. Spanish students, however, benefit more than German students from representing the risk information using ecologically rational formats—which exploit the way information is represented in the human mind. We concluded that our results can have important implications for clinical practice.

En dos experimentos, hemos analizado si existen diferencias culturales en la comprensión y recuerdo de información sobre riesgos médicos. Nos hemos centrado en dos países—Alemania y España—ya que, según los resultados encontrados en el Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA; OECD, 2003, 2010). los estudiantes procedentes de los mismos difieren substancialmente en sus habilidades para procesar información cuantitativa. Así mismo hemos investigado si es posible mejorar la comprensión de los riesgos médicos mediante el uso de material visual de apoyo (Experimento 1), o del uso de diferentes formatos verbales para describir dichos riesgos (Experimento 2). Los resultados de nuestros experimentos han puesto de manifiesto que los estudiantes españoles son más vulnerables a interpretar incorrectamente y a olvidar la información sobre los riesgos que los estudiantes alemanes. Sin embargo, los primeros se benefician en mayor medida que los segundos de la representación de la información sobre riesgos médicos a través del uso de formatos ecológicos—los cuales representan la información de un modo similar a como lo hace la mente humana. Concluimos que nuestros resultados pueden tener implicaciones importantes para la práctica clínica.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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