Mental Models in Injury Prevention

This month’s editor’s choice is Injury Prevention and Risk Communication: a mental models approach by Laurel Austin and Baruch Fischhoff.

We’ve published this special feature (which is free online) to highlight an empirically-grounded, systematic approach to thinking about health behavior, behavior change and intervention design. I suspect many of us use a ‘mental models’ framework as we think about prevention interventions, but fewer explicitly design and test their work in this fashion. And that’s a shame.

The authors make a strong case for the utility of a mental models approach and point to examples where the technique has been used to improve risk communication and preventive intervention. They outline 5 steps in systematically applying a ‘mental models’ framework to problem analysis and intervention:

  1. Elicit domain expert beliefs and integrate them in a formal model of the risk situation.
  2. Elicit lay beliefs about the same domain.
  3. Compare expert and lay beliefs to identify consequential gaps and misperceptions.
  4. Use structured surveys to estimate the population prevalence of beliefs.
  5. Develop and empirically evaluate contextually relevant communications.

Have a look at the paper here and let us know what you think.

We’d love to see submissions to the journal that make explicit use of this approach in understanding health behavior and designing preventive interventions.

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