Elevated risk judgments for negative life events have been linked to personal experience with events. We tested the hypothesis that cognitive heuristics are the underlying cognitive mechanism for this relation. The availability (i.e., memory for incidents) and simulation (i.e., imagery) heuristics were evaluated as possible mediators for the relation between personal experience and risk estimates for fatal weather events. Adolescents who had experienced weather disasters estimated their personal risk for weather events. Support was obtained for the simulation heuristic (imagery) as a mediator for the relation. Availability for lightning disaster experience was also found to be a mediator for the relation between personal lightning disaster experience and risk estimate for future events. The implications for risk perception research are discussed.
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