Communicating Weather and Climate Uncertainty: Exploratory Research in Cognitive Psychology
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Vast improvements in weather prediction, such as the ability to calculate precise and reliable estimates of weather uncertainty, would theoretically help members of the public make important decisions related to weather risks, but the extent to which non-expert end-users understand forecast uncertainty information remains unclear. A small body of recent research suggests that, contrary to the implications of much past research in cognitive psychology, non-experts can make effective use of probabilistic uncertainty estimates in weather forecasts. The research reported here uses an experimental framework to expand upon those findings to explore the scope of the benefits of inclusion of uncertainty estimates in forecasts. Several uncertainty expressions were tested in a variety of hypothetical settings using laboratory decision tasks based on real-world weather- and climate-related decision situations. Results consistently suggested that non-experts made better weather- and climate-related decisions when forecasts and projections included uncertainty estimates, although some expressions of uncertainty were more effective in some situations than in others. This research also explores effects of forecast error, false alarm effects, and trust. It adds to the growing body of research about how to effectively communicate weather- and climate-related risk, with results that might generalize to other domains in which non-experts make difficult decisions when faced with uncertainty. The research adds to our understanding of basic psychology, as it explores such concepts as framing, perception of the likelihood of rare events, and the role of decision feedback.
- Psychology