Michelle McDowell

Guest Scientist

Michelle McDowell was the Senior Research Group Leader of the “Risk and Evidence Communication” group at the Harding Center for Risk Literacy. She joined the Harding Center in 2013, then part of the Centre for Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Her research focuses on promoting balanced and transparent risk communication formats to facilitate medical decision making for patients and health professionals. She is interested in improving the visual communication of information, and designing more ecological presentation formats that improve comprehension of risks and their associated uncertainties. Dr. McDowell is one of the lead researchers on the VisRisk project funded by the Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung [German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment] to improve the communication of complex evidence in risk assessments to the general public. In 2018, she was invited to join the CAPUR Scientific Committee, a collaboration of international experts on risk supported by Atomium - European Institute for Science, Media and Democracy (EISMD), to develop principles to improve society’s management of risk. She teaches a risk communication module for the EU-FORA European Food Risk Assessment Fellowship Programme [2018-2020], an initiative to build scientific assessment capacity and knowledge for scientists in the EU. She has been invited to speak as a representative of the Harding Center to broad professional and public audiences, including talks at Berlin Science Week 2018 and the Berlin Long Night of the Sciences

  • 2020 - 2021: Research Program Leader, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Faculty of Health Sciences Brandenburg, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.
  • 2016 - 2019: Research Scientist, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.
  • 2013 - 2015: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.
  • 2011 - 2012: Research Fellow, Grififth Health Institute, Area of Strategic Investment, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.
  • 2011: PhD, Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Psychology, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.
  • 2010: Graduate Certificate in Research Management, Southern Cross University, Tweed Heads, Australia.
  • 2005: Bachelor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.


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Selected Publications

Brick, C., McDowell, M., & Freeman, A. L. J. (2020). Risk communication in tables vs. text: a Registered Report randomised trial on 'fact boxes'. Royal Society Open Science 7: 190876. doi: 10.1098/rsos.190876

McDowell, M, Gigerenzer, G, Wegwarth, O, & Rebitschek, F (2019).  Effect of tabular and icon fact box formats on comprehension of benefits and harms of prostate cancer screening: A randomized trial.  Medical Decision Making, 39 (1), 41-56. doi:10.1177/0272989X18818166.

Loizeau, AJ., Theill, N., Cohen, SM., Eicher, S., Mitchell, SL., Meier, S., McDowell, M., Martin, M. & Riese, F. (2019), Fact box decision support tools reduce decisional conflict about artificial hydration and antibiotics for pneumonia in advanced dementia: A randomized controlled trial. Age and Ageing, 48 (1), 67-74. doi:10.1093/ageing/afy149.

McDowell, M & Jacobs, P (2017). Meta-analysis of the effect of natural frequencies on Bayesian reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 143, 1273-1312. doi:10.1037/bul0000126

McDowell, M, Rebitschek, F, Gigerenzer, G, & Wegwarth, O  (2016). A simple tool for communicating the benefits and harms of health interventions: A guide for creating a fact box. MDM Policy & Practice, (1), 1-10. doi:10.1177/2381468316665365


Impact on Society

2018 - present: Member of the CAPUR Scientific Committee. Collaboration of international experts on risk. The committee developed principles to improve society's management of risk. Supported by Atomium - European Institute for Science, Media and Democracy (EISMD)

2018, 2019, 2020: EU-FORA European Food Risk Assessment Fellowship Programme, Course Lecturer, risk communication module, Bundesinstitute für Risikobewertung [Federal Institute for Risk Assessment], Berlin, Germany.

2018, November: Building Risk Competency. Future Medicine Science Match, part of Berlin Science Week 2018, Germany.

2015, October: McDowell, M.  Less is More: Transparency Instead of Information Overload. Plenary at The 23rd Cochrane Colloquium, Vienna, Austria.

2015, June: McDowell, M.  How to improve risk literacy in 3 minutes.  Long Night of the Sciences, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.


Selected Awards

2017: “VisRisk”: Visualising and communicating complex evidence in risk assessments – Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (111,900 EUR)

2016: Best Poster Prize. Rauwolf, G, McDowell, M, Okan, Y & Ziegler, M. Grün=gesund? Über die Farbwirkung bei der Benutzung von Icon Arrays [Green=healthy? The effect of colour in Icon Arrays.] EbM Kongress, Cologne.