February 23, 2009
If it’s hard to say, it must be risky
If people have problems pronouncing something, they will consider it to be risky, U.S. researchers said.
Psychologists Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan said they gave a group of students a list of made-up food additives and asked them to rate how harmful they were.
The additives all contained 12 letters, with Magnalroxate being one of the easiest to pronounce and Hnegripitrom one of the hardest. The students rated the difficult to pronounce additives as being more harmful, and the hard to pronounce additives were considered to be more novel than those with easier names.
In another experiment, students were shown a list of made-up names of amusement park rides and were asked to rate the rides on how adventurous the rides would be, and how risky -- and therefore most likely to make them sick. The names ranged from being easy to pronounce Chunta to very difficult to pronounce Vaiveahtoishi.
The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, said that consistent with the first experiment, the students rated the rides with the difficult to pronounce names as being more risky -- but more exciting.
The findings suggest risk perception may be influenced by the way the items are presented -- if they are difficult to process such as hard to pronounce names -- they will be viewed as being inherently riskier.