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.
- Involuntary: Risks voluntarily assumed are ranked differently from those imposed by others.
- Uncontrollable: The inability to personally make a difference decreases a risk’s acceptability.
- Immoral: Pollution is often viewed as a consummate evil. And statements that hazards are “too low to worry about” can engender suspicion.
- Unfamiliar: Generally speaking, more familiar risks are regarded as more acceptable.
- Dreadful: Risks that cause highly feared or dreaded consequences are viewed as more dangerous.
- Uncertain: Scientific uncertainty about the effect, severity, or prevalence of a hazard tends to escalate unease.
- Catastrophic: Large-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.
- Memorable: Risks embedded in remarkable events have greater impact than risks that arise in less prominent circumstances.
- Unfair: Substantial outrage is a more likely result if people feel they are being wrongfully exposed.
- Untrustworthy: The 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.