In many ways, this has been a year like no other in terms of decision-making.

Do I wear a mask? When do I wear a mask?

Do I gather with family for the holidays?

Do I change my company’s work-from-home policies? How do I change them?

And on and on.

If I walk down the street without a mask, what are the risks to me? What are the risks to others?

Risk perceptions can profoundly affect the ability of people to make informed decisions.

Risk perceptions, and the subjective judgments that people make about the characteristics and severity of a risk, are influenced by the beliefs a person holds regarding a risk, including beliefs about the definition, probability, and outcome of the risk.

Factors That Affect Informed Decision-Making

The following factors affect people’s ability to make informed decisions.

1. Inaccurate perceptions of risk.

2. Difficulties in understanding probabilistic information related to unfamiliar activities or technologies.

3. Strong emotional responses to risk information.

4. Desires and demands for scientific certainty.

5. Strong beliefs and opinions that resist change.

6. Weak beliefs and opinions that can be manipulated by the way information is presented and framed.

7. Ignoring or dismissing risk information because of its perceived lack of personal relevance.

8. Using risk issues as proxies or surrogates for other personal, societal, economic, or political agendas or concerns.

9. Changes in the way the brain processes information under conditions of high stress.

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

More information about perceptions of risk can be found in module one of Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication. This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.

The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice.

More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing

Dr. Vincent Covello

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books. Dr. Covello is a consultant, writer, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.