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Judging risk magnitude: walking to the left and base jumping to the right

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When thinking about quantifiable domains such as numbers, pitch, and size, they are implicitly mapped on to representational space with small/low/less and large/high/more of the respective domain represented on the left and right sides of representational space, respectively. Recent research has also demonstrated that more abstract domains (colours, language, political party names) are also mapped in the same way. This study investigated a new abstract domain, risk, to examine if this same pattern of effects is apparent (left = low risk/right = high risk) to get a better understanding of how risk magnitudes are processed. Experiment 1 (n = 26) presented objective, statistically calculated risk stimuli (micromorts) to participants, who indicated if the stimuli had lower or higher risks than a referent, with their left and right hands. Experiment 2 (n = 25) utilised the same task, but the risk stimuli were generated by the participants themselves. Both experiments found the expected association of risk with space—indicated by faster left-hand responses to low-risk stimuli and faster right-hand responses to high-risk stimuli. Risks appear to fit onto a standard left–right spatial association; however, the effect sizes for all analyses were small. The results of this study are not only in line with the idea of a generalised magnitude processing system, but might also inform best practices in effective communications of risks.

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Correspondence to Anne Macnamara.

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Macnamara, A., Loetscher, T. & Keage, H.A.D. Judging risk magnitude: walking to the left and base jumping to the right. Exp Brain Res 237, 653–662 (2019).

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