Heuristic-Systematic Information Processing and Risk Judgment

Abstract

The heuristic-systematic information processing model (HSM) holds that individuals will use one or both of these modes of information processing when attempting to evaluate information in order to arrive at a judgment. Systematic processing is defined by effortful scrutiny and comparison of information, whereas heuristic processing is defined by the use of cues to arrive more easily at a judgment. Antecedents to the two processing modes include information sufficiency, motivation, and self-efficacy. Structural equation modeling is used to examine competing configuration of this model and to evaluate the model as appropriate for predicting risk judgment. The model also is evaluated across three groups that vary with respect to their level of concern. These analyses are executed within a case study involving an epidemiological investigation of a suspected cancer cluster. The analysis confirms the HSM's theoretically proposed structure and shows it to be a useful vehicle for evaluating risk judgment. In the overall analysis, antecedent variables generally function as specified by theory. Systematic processing is predicted by greater motivation. Heuristic processing is predicted by information sufficiency. Self-efficacy is a significant predictor of both processing modes. And heuristic processing is shown to be associated with judgment of less risk. However, when the analysis is contrasted across three groups (those concerned about cancer, not concerned and uncertain) it is shown that the model is significantly more robust for the uncertain group. This finding may have implications for the use of the HSM in risk research specifically, and in field research generally.

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Trumbo, C.W. Heuristic-Systematic Information Processing and Risk Judgment. Risk Anal 19, 391–400 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1007092410720

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  • Risk judgment
  • risk communication
  • heuristic-systematic processing