Date of Award

Summer 2012

Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Human Factors & Systems


Human Factors and Systems

Committee Chair

Jonathan French, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Kelly Neville, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Mark Reynolds, Ph.D.


Cognitive biases influence decisions and the analyses of risk. They are often derived from two separate processes: bias based on familiarity (familiarity bias) and bias as the result of influences from outside sources (persuasion bias). Research suggests that familiarity-based bias may lead to acceptance of an activity's drawbacks and a leniency of its risks.

In addition, research has tried to measure and analyze different types of biases individually, but few have compared the interactions of more than one bias at once. Because different biases may derive from different mental phenomena it is important to tease out the distinctions, and observe how they interact with each other. This study conducted an empirical test that attempted to answer the following questions: Does familiarity and affiliation of the topics of radiation, low-earth orbit, and space travel result in a lesser concern, and therefore leniency, of the risks involved? How effective is on-the-spot persuasion when discussing risk assessment? How well does increased familiarity of a high-risk activity protect against on-the-spot persuasion?

Surveys were distributed to 409 students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The surveys were meant to collect the familiarity and preference levels of the participants regarding commercial space travel; they were also meant to expose the participants to persuasion conditions in order to influence their perceptions of risk. Non-parametric tests were performed in order to test the interactions. Data show that no significant bias occurred as the result of persuasion; however significance was detected between participants with high familiarity and low familiarity when they were not intentionally persuaded. Implications of these results are included.