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Injury prevention and risk communication: a mental models approach
  1. Laurel C Austin1,2,
  2. Baruch Fischhoff3,4
  1. 1Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
  2. 2The Research Unit for General Practice and Section of General Practice, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  3. 3Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  4. 4Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Laurel Austin, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Porcelaenshaven 18A, Copenhagen Business School, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark; lau.lpf{at}


Individuals' decisions and behaviour can play a critical role in determining both the probability and severity of injury. Behavioural decision research studies peoples' decision-making processes in terms comparable to scientific models of optimal choices, providing a basis for focusing interventions on the most critical opportunities to reduce risks. That research often seeks to identify the ‘mental models’ that underlie individuals' interpretations of their circumstances and the outcomes of possible actions. In the context of injury prevention, a mental models approach would ask why people fail to see risks, do not make use of available protective interventions or misjudge the effectiveness of protective measures. If these misunderstandings can be reduced through context-appropriate risk communications, then their improved mental models may help people to engage more effectively in behaviours that they judge to be in their own best interest. If that proves impossible, then people may need specific instructions, not trusting to intuition or even paternalistic protection against situations that they cannot sufficiently control. The method entails working with domain specialists to elicit and create an expert model of the risk situation, interviewing lay people to elicit their comparable mental models, and developing and evaluating communication interventions designed to close the gaps between lay people and experts. This paper reviews the theory and method behind this research stream and uses examples to discuss how the approach can be used to develop scientifically validated context-sensitive injury risk communications.

  • Injury
  • risk reduction
  • risk communication
  • mental models
  • decision making
  • risk perception
  • behaviour change
  • dissemination
  • mixed methods
  • planning
  • concussion
  • public health
  • pedestrian
  • implementation/translation

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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