Cognitive Maps of Risk and Benefit Perceptions

  • Adrian R. Tiemann
  • Jerome J. Tiemann
Part of the Advances in Risk Analysis book series (AEMB, volume 220)


The work reported herein is part of a continuing effort to delineate important dimensions for the measurement of public approval and/or disapproval of various activities in which society is engaged. A battery of questions designed to elicit opinions relating to various types of risks and benefits is posed to the respondent for an ensemble of activities and technologies. If these questions are approached in terms of a dominant cognitive map, answers to specific pairs of questions will be correlated over the ensemble of activities and technologies.

A procedure derived from factor analysis was used first to identify the principal components of the correlation matrix of each subject’s responses, and then to analyze these components in terms of four major themes (or cognitive maps). These themes can be described as: (1) Polarized, (2) Benefit oriented, (3) Risk oriented, and (4) Trade-off oriented. A respondent characterized by a “Polarized” cognitive map sees activities having high benefit as having a low element of risk (and vice-versa), and therefore, appears to be totally in favor of the activity or technology or totally opposed to it. A person with a “Benefit” orientation evaluates an activity as having either many benefits at once or relatively few. Similarly, a “Risk” oriented respondent will see an activity or technology as having either many risks or very few risks. The “Trade-off” respondent sees many activities that are acknowleged as risky as having more than average benefits and many low risk activities as having lower than average benefits

Survey items tapping perceptions of benefits and risks of a variety of activities and technologies derived from previous research were used in preliminary studies, and the results of these studies will be presented. Since observed factor loadings are used to weight the questions employed, this technique is more independent of specific assessment questions than previous approaches. Because of this, questions which do not require complex judgments on the part of the respondent can be used. The stability of the method was checked by varying the questions, and the activities and technologies with respect to which they were asked. Further stability checks were obtained by using different groups of respondents. Consistent results were obtained in over 75 percent of the cases, suggesting that the cognitive mappings uncovered in this research are both pervasive in the general public and important determinants of perceptions of risk and benefit.


Principal Factor Blue Collar Worker Cognitive Dimension Conceptual Dimension Risk Dimension 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian R. Tiemann
    • 1
  • Jerome J. Tiemann
    • 2
  1. 1.Digital Interfaces & SystemsAthertonUSA
  2. 2.Electronics Research LaboratoryStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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