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1 The public’s risk perception of technology NCSU Workshop on Communicating Health and Safety Risks on Emerging Technologies in the 21st Century McKimmon.

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Presentation on theme: "1 The public’s risk perception of technology NCSU Workshop on Communicating Health and Safety Risks on Emerging Technologies in the 21st Century McKimmon."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 The public’s risk perception of technology NCSU Workshop on Communicating Health and Safety Risks on Emerging Technologies in the 21st Century McKimmon Center, North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC August 28-29, 2008 Professor Lennart Sjöberg Center for Risk Research Stockholm School of Economics Sweden

2 2 Outline The Psychometric Model of risk perception Trust Risk targets Demand for risk mitigation Affect (attitude) and emotions Experts and the public Social validation The attitude towards nanotechnology Conclusions

3 3 Why research on risk perception? Risk is a very common issue in policy deliberations This is true both for decision makers, experts and the public Several risk related issues have created great economic and political turbulence There is therefore a need to know more about how people perceive and react to risks

4 4 Traditional view of risk perception (the Psychometric Paradigm) There are only a few generally applicable factors which determine perceived risk. ‘Novelty’ and ‘dread’ are the major factors with regard to a hazard Demand for risk mitigation is governed by the size of the risk – greater risk leads to increased demand Experts are ‘objective’ and not influenced by ‘subjective’ risk factors such as ‘novelty’ and ‘dread’

5 5 Traditional view of risk perception (continued) Trust in experts and institutions is very important. If it can established, trust will reassure the public and make them believe in and accept the experts' ‘objective’ risk assessment The social dilemma of risk management concerns different views of experts and the public – hence research is concentrated on these two groups

6 6 The ‘classical’ illustration of the Psychometric Model Voluntary, immediate, known, controllable, old Involuntary, delayed, unknown, uncontrollable, new Not certain to be fatal, common, chronic Certain to be fatal, dread, catastropic Food colouring Food preservatives Spray cans Antibiotics Contraceptives X-rays Vaccination Nuclear power Pesticides Commercial aviation Surgery Motor vehicles Construction Smoking General aviation Handguns Motorcycles Police work Fire fighting Hunting Swimming Mountain climbing Railroads Electric power Home appliances Football Power mowers Skiing Alcoholic beverages Bicycles

7 7 Are ‘dread’ and ‘novelty’ really driving factors behind risk perception? Explained variance between individuals of original model is typically only 20%, often less This is mostly due to the ‘dread’ factor ‘Novelty’ has no or very little explanatory power at all, with regard to individual differences

8 8 What is ”dread”? The word suggests that the factor is a measure of an emotional reaction Many people writing about it seem to have interpreted it that way However, all items in the ”dread” factor, with one exception, do not measure emotional reactions but severity of consequences When ”dread” is related to pereived risk, it is due to these items, not the singular emotion item

9 9 Factors needed to improve models of risk perception ‘Interfering with nature’ is a very important additional factor Social trust is important, but epistemic trust, trust in Science, is even more so Reactions to new technology are not driven by ‘novelty’ per se but by other factors, such as perceived benefit, or whether the technology brings about unique advantages and is hard to replace Attitude or ”affect” plays an important role Risk sensitivity is an aspect of individual differences which is quite important – some people rate risks as large, others rate them as small In addition, various hazards, some new (such as terrorism), require their own specific factors

10 10 Factors beyond social trust Typically social trust (in experts or organisations) has only a weak effect on perceived risk – correlations of 0.3 or less Trust in science, as distinct from social trust, has a stronger effect – epistemic trust Another important factor is perceived antagonism

11 11 Effect of social trust is mediated by epistemic trust (model of nuclear waste risk) Perceived risk Epistemic trust Risk sensitivity Social trust Antagonism R 2 =0.56 R 2 =0.37 GFI=0.95, AGFI=0.93, RMSEA= R 2 =0.41

12 12 Conclusion about trust Epistemic trust seems to be more important than social trust The effect of social trust is mediated by epistemic trust In other words: trust in people and institutions is important to the extent that it promotes belief in the substance of their message

13 13 Risk target: Whose ‘risk’ – more specifically? Personal and general risk differ both as to level and rank order General risk is important for lifestyle (smoking etc.,) Personal for environmental risks, and technology hazards Research shows that such risk ratings with a non-specified target are close to general risk But, general risk is not the most relevant in policy contexts

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15 15 Different dynamics of personal and general risk General risk is related to policy for hazards perceived to be under one’s personal control Personal risk is related to policy for hazards not under one’s personal control Examples: alcohol and nuclear power

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17 17 Focus on risk – traditional approach People are asked to rate the ‘risk’ It is assumed that perceived risk, as defined in this way, is the factor driving risk-related behaviour – such as demand for risk reduction But the assumption is usually implicit

18 18 Risk mitigation – the problem What drives demand for risk reduction? Is perceived risk the important factor? If not, what factor is most important ?

19 19 Example Consider the risk for a Swedish citizen, age 30–45, to 1. get a severe cold during the next 12 months 2. become infected with the HIV virus during the same time period Which risk is the largest? From which risk is it more important to be protected?

20 20 Risk perception studies show that Risk and probability are closely related Severity and demand for risk reduction are closely related Risk and demand for risk reduction are only moderately related (“probability neglect”)

21 21 Implications In risk communication it should be clear that the public wants to hear about severity of consequences, not so much about probabilities: Probability is hard to understand Precise estimates of very small probabilities must rely on many assumptions and are seldom very credible In risk perception research, it is necessary to broaden the scope – just studying ‘risk’ is not sufficient

22 22 Emotions and affect “Affect” is a word with several distinct meanings: emotions or values (attitudes) It is necessary to clarify which one is investigated – they are psychologically quite different Both are related to risk perception

23 23 Attitude (affect), trust, risk sensitivity and attitude towards nuclear power (1991 study)

24 24 Emotions – study of emotional reactions to a nuclear waste repository Several emotions were rated, not only one Negative and positive emotions were rated About 800 respondents from two communities where site studies are now carried out Two candidate municipalities, one control and a national sample Response rate 50%

25 25 Model of the attitude to a nuclear waste repository Attitude to the repository Risk to the municipality Epistemic trust Negative emotions Positive emotions Social trust Attitude to nuclear power Model of attitude to the repository explaining 65% of the variance

26 Worry Shame Guilt Satisfaction Sadness Interest Fear Contempt Anger The anticipated emotional reaction of others to nuclear power Own emotional reaction to nuclear power Emotion Correlations between emotional reactions and the attitude to nuclear power

27 27 Mean emotional reactions attributed to others versus own reactions Own emotional reaction Others’ emotional reaction

28 28 A methodological point Instructions to rate “dread” do not specify WHOSE dread This probably leads to the interpretation to rate the emotional reactions of OTHERS In turn, data therefore reflect only a weak link between emotional reactions and perceived risk

29 29 Conclusions about emotions Specific and current emotional reactions do seem to explain much of attitudes and policy behaviour, attitude (affect) somewhat less Compare these strong effects with the almost zero importance of anticipated ‘dread’ of others Both positive and negative emotions are important Note that ‘worry’ contributes beyond the effect of ‘fear’ Anger seems to be more important than fear in policy contexts

30 30 Experts versus the public Original work claimed that experts make ‘correct’ and ‘objective’ risk judgements used a very small group of ‘experts’ with questionable competence Later work with substantive experts has shown that they have similar structure of risk perception, but lower level Risk perception is related to experts’ field of responsibility – not to knowledge

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33 33 Experts and the public – personal and general food risks Personal risk General risk

34 34 Note “Rhetorical contrast”

35 35 Ratings of risk dimensions of nuclear waste by the public, and male and female experts Expert-public difference for both genders

36 36 No gender difference among experts

37 37 Regression coefficients in model of perceived nuclear waste risk, results from analyzing data from experts (A) and engineers (B) plotted against results from analyzing data from the public. Very similar models for experts and the public

38 38 Correlations between risk perception ratings and the psychometric factors (genetically modified food) for the public and experts Social trust (Likert items) Epistemological trust Severity of consequences Immoral risk Interfering with nature New risk Dread ExpertsPublicExpertsPublicExplanatory variable General riskPersonal risk Experts’ risk ratings unrelated to “subjective factors, But only for Dread and Novelty and for general risk

39 39 Conclusion – public and experts Experts judge personal risk in a manner similar to the public However, their judgements of general risk seem to be less correlated with the ‘subjective’ factors Other studies have shown that personal risk is most important in policy related to technology and the environment Experts judge risks to be smaller when they are within their general area of responsibility

40 40 Why do group differences arise?

41 41 The importance of social interaction and social validation

42 42 Could social validation explain part of the gender differences in attitude? 32% of the male respondents talked mostly to other men about nuclear power (NP), 10% women did so 2% of the male respondents talked mostly to women about NP, 12% of the women did so

43 43 Those who talked mostly with men were more positive towards nuclear power

44 44 Conclusion about social validation Strong effects can be seen, people use the beliefs of friends and colleagues as a source of validation This factor tends to make vocational, geographical and gender based groups diverge

45 45 What does our research imply for risk communication? Emotions are important to take into account but not only strong fear Concern about ‘Interfering with Nature’ is a major factor but not novelty of a risk People’s understanding and trust in science is very important social trust is less important ‘Risk’ and ‘probability’ are marginal to people they respond to notions about anticipated consequences and whether a technology has unique advantages Experts are not that different from the public in how they react to hazards outside their field of responsibility Social validation is a promising theme for future research

46 46 The attitude towards nanotechnology Nationally representative data, N=934, response rate 54%, postal survey Data were corrected in the beginning of technologies rated as to acceptability (use much more – much less or not at all) Nanotechnology defined: “technology which works in an extremely small scale (atoms, molecules)”

47 47 Approval ratings of 20 technologies

48 48 Acceptance of nanotechnology and level of education

49 49 Acceptance of nanotechnology and age

50 50 Correlations between values and attitude towards nanotechnology Cultural theory: Egalitarian attitude 0.100Cultural theory: Hierarchical attitude 0.100Cultural theory: Individualism Schwartz: discipline 0.047Schwartz: prosocial behavior 0.169Schwartz: achievement

51 51 Factor analysis of the 20 acceptability ratings gave 2 dominating factors

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53 53 Conclusions about the attitude towards nanotechnology The evaluation was positive – but so far we had relatively little public debate about nanotechnology Women were less positive towards nanotechnology than were men – this is not true of all technologies People with a high level of education were more positive, older people more negative Nanotechnology was included in a cluster och new and advanced technologies The nanotechnology attitude was unrelated to basic values

54 54 Risk and nanotechnology: further work probabilities vs consequences social vs epistemic trust Interfering with Nature the role of affect, attitudes and emotions specific aspects not found for other hazards

55 55 For more information… See my homepage Several papers and reports can be downloaded from that site

56 56 Thank you for your attention!

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