OU professor: Visual aids help people make decisions 

University of Oklahoma professor Edward Cokely goes over risk assessment guides with his graduate students at the OU National Institute for Risk and Resilience. 

Research conducted by a University of Oklahoma professor indicates visual aids can be used to help people make decisions involving high risk and may be better at conveying information than verbal methods. 

“It is striking to see how effective visual aids can be for diverse people facing complex, life-changing decisions, including physicians, patients and their families,” OU professor Edward T. Cokely said.

Cokely and his colleague Dr. Rocio Garcia-Retamero, from the University of Granada in Spain, reviewed research including studies of psychological, social and technological factors that shape the influence of numeracy on risk literacy, decision-making and health outcomes. Data for the study covered research from 1995 through 2016 and included material from 36 publications that provided data on 27,885 diverse participants from 60 countries.

“We live in a fundamentally complex and risky world,” Cokely said. “Individuals and families face a lot of tough choices in today’s world. All of these decisions cause people to deal with risk. Well-designed, transparent and simple visual aids help people understand the risks. And as a result, they tend to make better choices for themselves and their families.”

According to Cokely, associate professor in the OU Department of Psychology and National Institute of Risk and Resilience, the most important aspect of decision-making is allowing people to decide for themselves without the presence factors such as bias and influence.

“We want to empower people to make beneficial decisions. It translates into major economic and social benefits,” he said. “Not to manipulate, but to design things that empower people to be risk literate.”

Cokely said about one-third of the studies reviewed were conducted by him and his colleagues. 

Norman attorney David Bernstein said visual aids increase the understanding of an idea that is placed in front of someone and he even uses visual aids in trials. 

“Over a three-day time period, people will remember around 60 to 70 percent of what they see visually, and when they hear the information, it goes down tremendously,” Bernstein said. “A jury is who decides a case, and everything we do is for the jury’s benefit. I try to show them all of the important facts so that they can register the information and make a determination.” 

Additionally, Bernstein said visual aids show the jury he isn’t hiding anything.

“I think it helps with credibility,” he said. “I’m not telling them what to think. Instead, they are seeing it themselves and coming up with their own conclusion.” 

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Jacob McGuire is the Crime and Courts reporter for The Norman Transcript. McGuire is currently pursuing his MPA at the University of Oklahoma.