Risk Analysis

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 635–647 | Cite as

A Quantitative Test of the Cultural Theory of Risk Perceptions: Comparison with the Psychometric Paradigm

  • Claire Marris
  • Ian H. Langford
  • Timothy O'Riordan


This paper seeks to compare two frameworks which have been proposed to explain risk perceptions, namely, cultural theory and the psychometric paradigm. A structured questionnaire which incorporated elements from both approaches was administered to 129 residents of Norwich, England. The qualitative risk characteristics generated by the psychometric paradigm explained a far greater proportion of the variance in risk perceptions than cultural biases, though it should be borne in mind that the qualitative characteristics refer directly to risks whereas cultural biases are much more distant variables. Correlations between cultural biases and risk perceptions were very low, but the key point was that each cultural bias was associated with concern about distinct types of risks and that the pattern of responses was compatible with that predicted by cultural theory. The cultural approach also provided indicators for underlying beliefs regarding trust and the environment; beliefs which were consistent within each world view but divergent between them. An important drawback, however, was that the psychometric questionnaire could only allocate 32% of the respondents unequivocally to one of the four cultural types. The rest of the sample expressed several cultural biases simultaneously, or none at all. Cultural biases are therefore probably best interpreted as four extreme world views, and a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies would generate better insights into who might defend these views in what circumstances, whether there are only four mutually exclusive world views or not, and how these views are related to patterns of social solidarity, and judgments on institutional trust.

Risk perceptions cultural theory psychometric paradigm 


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Copyright information

© Society for Risk Analysis 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Marris
    • 1
  • Ian H. Langford
    • 2
  • Timothy O'Riordan
    • 2
  1. 1.Formerly at the School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwich;
  2. 2.Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwichU.K.

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