Nondamage Attributes of Risk Perception in General Public

Ran across this today as part of my reading for my environmental health class at UNC’s School of Public Health (ENVR 600) and found it very interesting. 

When presented with risk information and hazards (e.g. pesticide residues, living near a nuclear power plant), the general public will often weigh risks differently based on different attributes. The below list is a list of key attributes and how they can affect risk perception for a nontechnical audience. 

  • InvoluntaryRisks voluntarily assumed are ranked differently from those imposed by others.
  • UncontrollableThe inability to personally make a difference decreases a risk’s acceptability.
  • ImmoralPollution is often viewed as a consummate evil. And statements that hazards are “too low to worry about” can engender suspicion.
  • UnfamiliarGenerally speaking, more familiar risks are regarded as more acceptable.
  • DreadfulRisks that cause highly feared or dreaded consequences are viewed as more dangerous.
  • UncertainScientific uncertainty about the effect, severity, or prevalence of a hazard tends to escalate unease.
  • CatastrophicLarge-scale disasters such as a plane crash weigh more seriously in the public’s mind than individual events such as exposures to radon gas in a neighbor’s basement.
  • MemorableRisks embedded in remarkable events have greater impact than risks that arise in less prominent circumstances.
  • UnfairSubstantial outrage is a more likely result if people feel they are being wrongfully exposed.
  • UntrustworthyThe level of outrage is higher if the source of the risk is not trusted.

Source: Foundation for American Communications and National Sea Grant College Program. Reporting on Risk: A Handbook for Journalists and Citizens; The Annapolis Center, 1995, pp 84–86.