The Effect of Framing Actuarial Risk Probabilities on Involuntary Civil Commitment Decisions

9 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2011

See all articles by Nicholas Scurich

Nicholas Scurich

University of California, Irvine

Richard S. John

University of Southern California

Date Written: March 18, 2011


Despite a proliferation of actuarial risk assessment instruments, empirical research on the communication of violence risk is scant and there is virtually no research on the consumption of actuarial risk assessment. Using a 2 X 3 Latin Square factorial design, this experiment tested whether decision-makers are sensitive to varying levels of risk expressed probabilistically and whether the framing of actuarial risk probabilities is consequential for commitment decisions. Consistent with research on attribute framing, in which describing an attribute in terms of its complement leads to different conclusions, this experiment found that the way actuarial risk estimates are framed leads to disparate commitment decisions. For example, risk framed as 26% probability of violence generally led decision-makers to authorize commitment, whereas the same risk framed in the complement, a 74% probability of no violence, generally led decision-makers to release. This result was most pronounced for moderate risk levels. Implications for the risk communication format debate, forensic practice and research are discussed.

Keywords: Violence Risk Communication, Actuarial Risk Assessment, Framing Effects, Decision-Making, Civil Commitment

Suggested Citation

Scurich, Nicholas and John, Richard S., The Effect of Framing Actuarial Risk Probabilities on Involuntary Civil Commitment Decisions (March 18, 2011). Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 83-91, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Scurich (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

Richard S. John

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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