If It’s Difficult to Pronounce, It Must Be Risky

I’ve just found a short-but-sweet study recently published in Psychological Science that shows that we tend to rate things with difficult to pronounce names as more risky than those with names that we can say more fluently.

Psychologists Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz created names of notional food additives and asked the participants to rate how hazardous they seemed.

Easy to pronounce ‘additives’ with names like Magnalroxate were consistently rated as less risky than names such as Hnegripitrom.

Wanting to see whether the same effect held for risks that could be seen as exciting, they ran a similar experiment but where participants were asked to rate amusement park rides.

Rides with names like Ohanzee were rated as less likely to make you sick than difficult-to-pronounce rides with names like Tsiischili, but were also rated as less adventurous.

The researchers note that their study is in line with previous research on cognitive biases, which has found that we tend to underestimate the risk of familiar things and over-estimate the risk of things we don’t know so well.

Link to PubMed entry for study.

3 Comments

  1. Posted February 6, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    That just made me laugh out loud. Human beings are funny creatures.

  2. blah
    Posted February 9, 2009 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Does it mean that in this study people were asked to rate the dangerousness of things based solely on their names ? In that case let me say that when you ask a stupid question you’ll only get stupid answers.

  3. Posted February 9, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the subjects were trying to guess what was going on inside the mind of the person who named the product or ride.
    I mean, if you haven’t bothered to come up with a sensible name for an additive, perhaps that’s because you deliberately want to make it obscure – or perhaps it just isn’t used widely (and so is untested).
    And whoever named the ride presumably did so deliberately to try to convey something of its nature. Just a bit of fun, or wild and crazy?


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