Add words, paralyze readers
More information = poorer decisions
“More information doesn’t always improve decision-making; in fact, it can undermine it.”
— Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters, researchers
One of the most complex decisions we ask consumers to make is to choose among health insurance plans.
It’s not uncommon for consumers to have to compare more than 15 plans on each of 10 to 12 factors. And integrating different types of information and different types of variables makes decision-making even harder, according to researchers (Payne, Bettman and Johnson, 1993; Slovic, 1995).
Making matters worse, this information often:
- Includes technical terms and complex ideas
- Requires the reader to weigh factors based on their own values, preferences and needs
- Calls for readers to also consider coverage, benefits and costs
For instance, if one hospital has high consumer satisfaction scores but average measures of safety and effectiveness, and another is highly effective but ranks low in satisfaction and safety, how do consumers weigh these factors in their choices?
What happens when we give people too much data?
It would seem that the more information we give people, the better off they’d be.
But “having an abundance of information does not always translate into” informed choices, write researchers Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters. “The amount of information may exceed human information processing skills.”
And when that happens, people shut down. They may simplify the decision by relying on others’ advice, by ignoring some of the information or by basing their decisions on the wrong things. Or they may not make a decision at all (Hibbard, Slovic and Jewett, 1997).
Present information to help people choose.
So how can we help?
“How information is presented may be just as influential as what information is presented,” Hibbard and Peters write.
To help the reader understand:
- Reduce cognitive effort. Reduce the amount of information you present through decision-support tools, an information intermediary or visual displays of quantifiable information.
- Bring the experience to life. Show people what the decision will mean to them in real life through narratives, vivid details and tailoring.
- Reframe the data. Help readers see the significance of the information by highlighting, framing and otherwise presenting the data.
“Most presentations of comparative information are based on the assumption that consumers know what is important to them and where their self-interest lies,” Hibbard and Peters write.
“These assumptions are faulty.”
Source: Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters, “Supporting Informed Consumer Health Care Decisions: Data Presentation Approaches that Facilitate the Use of Information in Choice,” Annual Review of Public Health, 2003, Vol. 24, pp. 413-33