Understanding public risk perception and responses to changes in perceived risk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION This chapter will introduce scholars and policy-makers interested in the public's perception of risk and its effect on individual and collective responses to some psychological literature on these topics. Depending on the reader, the sections below will contain either too much or too little information. The latter (too little information) can be remedied by consulting the provided references to specific facts, theories, or arguments for more information. The former (too much information) can be solved by reading just the remainder of this introduction and the conclusions and by sampling from the intervening sections as needed. The section “Function of Risk Perception” argues that the general public only distinguishes between a small number of risk levels (present/absent or negligibly low/need to monitor/unacceptably high) and that triggering events shift their perceptions from one level to another. This results in either an under- or overreaction to existing risks in most situations, as illustrated in Figure 4.1. Real-world examples of such rapid shifts in reaction are provided in Boxes 4.1 to 4.3. “Individual Risk Perception” provides more background on several psychological processes that give rise to the discrepancy between actual and perceived levels of risk. Risk often is a feeling rather than a statistic based on objective outcomes, and this feeling is influenced by reactions (dread, feeling out of control) that may not closely connect to objective loss or risk statistics. Importantly, it is this feeling of being at risk that motivates action. However, this flag goes down when some action has been taken, giving rise to a single action bias that discourages sustained attention to complex risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPolicy Shock
Subtitle of host publicationRecalibrating Risk and Regulation after Oil Spills, Nuclear Accidents and Financial Crises
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781316492635
ISBN (Print)9781107140219
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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