Effects of Symptom Presentation Order on Perceived Disease Risk

Sau Kwan, Sean P. Wojcik, Talya Miron-shatz, Ashley M. Votruba, Christopher Y. Olivola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


People are quick to perceive meaningful patterns in the co-occurrence of events. We report two studies exploring the effects of streaks in symptom checklists on perceived personal disease risk. In the context of these studies, a streak is a sequence of consecutive items on a list that share the characteristic of being either general or specific. We identify a psychological mechanism underlying the effect of streaks in a list of symptoms and show that the effect of streaks on perceived risk varies with the length of the symptom list. Our findings reveal a tendency to infer meaning from streaks in medical and health decision making. Participants perceived a higher personal risk of having an illness when presented with a checklist in which common symptoms were grouped together than when presented with a checklist in which these same symptoms were separated by rare symptoms. This research demonstrates that something as arbitrary as the order in which symptoms are presented in a checklist can affect perceived risk of disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-385
Number of pages5
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • decision making
  • health
  • judgment
  • prediction
  • randomness cognition
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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