Advertisement

Communicating Scientific Information About Health and Environmental Risks: Problems and Opportunities from a Social and Behavioral Perspective

  • Vincent T. Covello
  • Detlof von Winterfeldt
  • Paul Slovic
Part of the Advances in Risk Analysis book series (AIRA, volume 4)

Abstract

Risk communication takes place in a variety of forms, ranging from product warning labels on cigarette packages and saccharin bottles to interactions between officials and members of the public on such highly charged issues as Love Canal, AIDS, and the accident at Three Mile Island. Recent experience has shown that communicating scientific information about health and environmental risks can be exceedingly difficult and is often frustrating to those involved. Government officials, industry executives, and scientific experts often complain that laypeople do not understand technical risk information and that individual and media biases and limitations lead to distorted and inaccurate perceptions of many risk problems. Individual citizens and representatives of public groups are often equally frustrated, perceiving government and industry officials to be uninterested in their concerns, unwilling to take immediate and direct actions to solve seemingly simple and obvious health and environmental problems, and reluctant or unwilling to allow them to participate in decisions that intimately affect their lives. In this context, the media often play the role of transmitter and translator of information about health and environmental risks, but have been criticized for exaggerating risks and emphasizing drama over scientific facts.

Keywords

Conflict Resolution Risk Communication Seat Belt Public Involvement Joint Problem 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Bibliography

  1. Adler, R., and R. D. Pittle, Cajolery or command: Are education campaigns an adequate substitute for regulation?, Yale Journal on Regulation, Vol. 1, 159–193, 1984.Google Scholar
  2. Alcalay, R., The impace of mass communication in the health field. Social Science and Medicine., 17, 87–94, 1983.Google Scholar
  3. Barber, B. The Logic and Limits of Trust. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1983.Google Scholar
  4. Bingham, G. Resolving environmental disputes: A decade of experience. Washington D.C.: The Conservation Foundation, 1984.Google Scholar
  5. Bowonder, B. Low probability event: a case study in risk assessment. Paper presented at the workshop “Risk analysis in developing countries”, Hyderabad, India, October, 1985.Google Scholar
  6. Burger, E., Health Risks: The Challenge of Informing the Public, Washington, D.C.: The Media Institute, 1984.Google Scholar
  7. Busterud, J. Mediation: The state of the art. Environmental Professional, 1980, 2, 34–39.Google Scholar
  8. Combs, B. and Slovic, P. Newspaper Coverage of Causes of Death. Journalism Quarterly, 1979, 56, 837–843.Google Scholar
  9. Covello, V. T. The Perception of Technological Risks: A Literature Review. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 1983, 23, 285–297.Google Scholar
  10. Covello, V. T. Uses of social and behavioral research on risk. Environment International, June, 1984.Google Scholar
  11. Covello, V., von Winterfeldt, D., and Slovic, P., Risk Communication: Background Report for the National Conference on Risk Communication. Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1986.Google Scholar
  12. Conrad, J. (Ed.) Society, technology, and risk assessment. New York; Academic Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  13. Cormick, G.W. The theory and practice of environmental mediation. Environmental Professional, 1980, 2, 24–33.Google Scholar
  14. Coser, L.A. The functions of social conflict. New York: Free Press, 1956.Google Scholar
  15. Creighton, J.L. Public involvement manual: involving the public in water and power resource discussions. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980.Google Scholar
  16. Cutter, S. and Barnes, K. Evacuation behavior and Three Mile Island. Disasters, 1982, 6, 116–124.Google Scholar
  17. Delli Priscoli, J., Creighton, J., Dunning, C.M. (ed.), Public involvement techniques: A reader of ten years experience of the Institute for Water Resources. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Institute for Water Resources, IWR Research Report 82-R1, May, 1983.Google Scholar
  18. Douglas, M. Purity and danger London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966.Google Scholar
  19. Douglas, M. and Wildaysky, A. Risk and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  20. Eagly, A. H. and Chaiken, S. Psychological theories of persuasion. In L. Berkowitz (ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology. 1985.Google Scholar
  21. Earle, T.C. Risk communication: A marketing approach. Unpublished paper, presented at the National Science Foundation/Environmental Protection Agency Workshop on Risk Perception and Risk Communication, Long Beach, CA., Dec. 1984.Google Scholar
  22. Earle, T.C. and Cvetkovich, G. Risk judgement and the communication of hazard information: Toward a new look in the study of risk perception. BH ARC (400/83/017), Battelle Human Affairs Research Centers, Seattle, WA, 1983.Google Scholar
  23. Evans, S.H. and Clarke, P., When cancer patients fail to get well: Flaws in health communication. In R.N. Bostrom (ed.), Communication Yearbook 7., Beverly Hills: Sage, 1983Google Scholar
  24. Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., Lichtenstein, S., Read, S. and Combs, B. How safe is safe enough? A psychometric study of attitudes towards technological risks and benefits. Policy Sciences, 1978, 8, 127–52.Google Scholar
  25. Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P. and Lichtenstein, S. Weighing the risks. Environment, 1979, 21, 17–10, 32–38.Google Scholar
  26. Fischhoff, B., Watson, S., and Hope, C. Defining risk. Policy Sciences, 1984, 17, 123–139.Google Scholar
  27. Fishbein, M. and Ajzen, I. Belief, attitude, intention and behavior: An introuduction to theory and research. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975.Google Scholar
  28. Friedman, S. M. Blueprint for breakdown: Three Mile Island and the mass media before the accident. Journal of Communications, 1981, 31, 85–96.Google Scholar
  29. Gibson, M. (ed.) To Breathe Freely: Risk, Consent, and Air. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985Google Scholar
  30. Green, C. H. Risk: Attitudes and beliefs. In D. V. Canter (ed.), Behavior in fires. Chichester: Wiley, 1980.Google Scholar
  31. Greene, M., Perry, R. W., and Lindell, M. K. The March 1980 eruptions of Mount St. Helens: citizens perceptions of volcano hazard. Disasters, 1980, 49–66.Google Scholar
  32. Gross, J. L. and Rayner, S. Measuring Culture: A Paradigm for the Analysis of Social Organization. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.Google Scholar
  33. Hodler, T. W. Residents’ preparedness and response to the Kalamazoo tornado. Disasters, 1982, 2, 44–49.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson, B. and Covello, V. (eds.) The Social Construction of Risk. Boston: Reidel, 1986 (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  35. Johnson, E. J., and Tversky, A. Affect, generalization, and the perception of risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1983, 45, 2031Google Scholar
  36. Kasperson, R. and Kasperson, J., Determining the acceptability of risk: ethical and policy issues, in J. Rogers and D. Bates, eds., Risk: A Symposium, Ottawa: The Royal Society of Canada, 1983.Google Scholar
  37. Keeney, R.L., and Raiffa, H. Decisions with multiple objectives: Preferences and value tradeoffs. New York: Wiley, 1976.Google Scholar
  38. Kiesler, C.A.. Collins, B.E., and Miller, N. Attitude change. New York: Wiley, 1968.Google Scholar
  39. Kunreuther, H., Ginsberg, R. Miller, L., Sagi, P., Slovic, P., Borkan, B., and Katz, N. Disaster Insurance Protection: Public Policy Lessons. New York: Wiley, 1978.Google Scholar
  40. Lagadec, P. Major Technological Disaster. Oxford: Pergamon, 1982.Google Scholar
  41. Levine, A. G. Love Canal: Science, politics, and People. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1982.Google Scholar
  42. Lichtenstein, S., Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., Layman, M., Coombs, B. Judged frequency of lethal events. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 1978, 4, 551–578.Google Scholar
  43. Lindell, M., Bolton, P. A., Perry, R. W. Stoetzel, G. A., Martin, J. B., and Flynn, C. B. Planning concepts and decision criteria for sheltering and evacuationm in a nuclear power plant emergency. Technical report No. AIF/NESP-031, Batelle Human Affairs Research Centers, Seattle, WA, June, 1985.Google Scholar
  44. Lindell, M., Perry, W. and Greene, M., Individual response to emergency preparedness planning near Mt. St. Helens, Disaster Management, January- March, 5–11, 1983Google Scholar
  45. Lipset, S. and Schneider, W. The Confidence Gap: Business, Labor and Government in the Public Mind. New York: The Free Press, 1983.Google Scholar
  46. Lowrance, W. Of Acceptable Risk: Science and the Determination of Safety. Los Altos, CA: Kaufman, 1976.Google Scholar
  47. Luce, D. and Raiffa, H. Games and decisions. New York: Wiley, 1957.Google Scholar
  48. Maccoby, N., Farquhar, J., Wood, P., Alexander, J. Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease: Effects of a community-based campaign on knowledge and behavior. Journal of Community Health, 1977.Google Scholar
  49. Maccoby, N. and Solomon, D.S., Heart disease prevention: community studies. In R.E. Rice and W.J. Paisley (eds), Public Communication Campaigns. Beverly Hills, Ca.: Sage, 1981.Google Scholar
  50. MacLean, D., (ed.) Values at Risk, Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1986.Google Scholar
  51. Mazur, A., Disputes between experts., Minerva. 11, pp. 243–262, 1973Google Scholar
  52. Mazur, A. The dynamics of technical controversy. Washington, D.C.: Communications Press, 1981.Google Scholar
  53. Mazur, A. Media coverage and public opinion on scientific controversies. Journal of Communications Research, 1980, 31, 106–115.Google Scholar
  54. Media Institute, Chemical Risks: Fears, Facts, and the Media, Washington, D.C.: Media Institute, 1985.Google Scholar
  55. Mileti, D. Natural hazard warning systems in the U.S.: a research assessment. Technical Report, Institute for Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, 1975.Google Scholar
  56. Mileti, D., Drabek, T. and Haas, E. Human behavior in extreme environments. Boulder, Co.: University of Colorado, 1975.Google Scholar
  57. McGuire, W. J. Attitudes and attitude change. In Lindzey and Aronson (eds.) Handbook of social psychology, 1985.Google Scholar
  58. McNeil, B. J., Pauker, S. G., Sox, H. C. Jr. Tversky, A. On the elicitation of preferences for alternative therapies. The New England Journal of Medicine, 1982, 306, 1259–1262.Google Scholar
  59. Mitchell, R.C. Public Opinion on Environmental Issues: Results of a National Public Opinion Survey. Washington, D.C.: Council on Environmental Quality, 1980.Google Scholar
  60. Morris, L., Mazis, M., and Barofsky, I., (eds.) Product Labeling and Health Risks. Banbury Report 6. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1980.Google Scholar
  61. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council. Saccharin: Technical assessment of risks and benefits. Committee for a Study on saccharin and food safety policy. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1978. ( Second Edition.) Sage: Beverly Hills, 1984.Google Scholar
  62. Nelkin, D. (ed.) Controversy: Politics of technical decisions, Beverly Hills: Sage, 1978.Google Scholar
  63. Nelkin, D. and Brown, M. Workers at risk: Voices from the workplace, University of Chicago Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  64. Nilson, L. B. and Nilson, D. C. Resolving the “sooner vs. later” controversy surrounding the public announcement of earthquake predictions. Disasters, 1981, 5, 391–397.Google Scholar
  65. O’Hare, M. Not on my block you don’t: Facility siting and the strategic importance of compensation. Public Policy, 197, 25, 1977, 407–458.Google Scholar
  66. O’Hare, M. Bargaining and negotiation for a conflict resolution. In H. Kunreuther and P. Kleindorfer (eds.) Production, transportation, and storage of hazardous materials. New York: Springer, 1976.Google Scholar
  67. Otway, H., Maurer, D. and Thomas, K. Nuclear power: The question of public acceptance. Futures, 1978, 10, 109–118.Google Scholar
  68. Otway, H. J. Risk perception: A psychological perspective. In M. Dierkes, S. Edwards, and R, Coppock (eds.) Technological risk: its perspective and handling in Europe, Boston: Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Hain, 1980.Google Scholar
  69. Otway, H.J. and v. Winterfeldt, D. Beyond acceptable risk: on the social acceptability of technologies. Policy Sciences, 8, 1982, 127–152.Google Scholar
  70. Pate-Cornell, M.E. Warning systems in risk management. Risk Analysis, Vol. 6, No. 2, June 1986Google Scholar
  71. Peltu, M. Risk communication: The role of the media. In H. Otway (Ed.), Risk and regulation. London: Butterworths, 1985.Google Scholar
  72. Perrow, C. Normal accidents. New York: Basic Books, 1984.Google Scholar
  73. Perry, R. W., Greene, M. R., and Lindell, M. K.. Enhancing evacuation warning compliance: suggestions for emergency planning. Disasters, 1980, 4, 433–449.Google Scholar
  74. Popper, F. The Environmentalists and the LULU ( Local Unwanted Land Use.) Environment, March 1985Google Scholar
  75. Quarantelli, E. and Dynes, R. Response to social crisis and disaster. Annual Review of Sociology, 1977, 3 23–49.Google Scholar
  76. Quarantelli, E. L. Evacuation behavior and problems: Findings and implications from the research literature. Department of Sociology, Disaster Research Center, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1980.Google Scholar
  77. Raiffa, H. The art and science of negotiation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  78. Renn, O. Man, technology, and risk: A study on intuitive risk assessment and attitudes towards nuclear power, (Report Jul-Sept 115, Julich ). Nuclear Research Center, 1981.Google Scholar
  79. Rice, R.E., and W.J. Paisley (eds.), Public Communication Campaigns., Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981.Google Scholar
  80. Robertson, L. The great seat belt campaign flop. Journal of Communication., 26, pp. 41–45, 1976.Google Scholar
  81. Robertson, L., Kelley, A., O’Neill, B., Wixom, C., Eiswirth, R., and Haddon, W., A controlled study of the effect of television messages on safety belt use. American Journal of Public Health, 64, 1071–1081, 1974Google Scholar
  82. Rogers, E. M. and Sood, R. Mass media operations in a quick-onset natural disaster: Hurricane David in Dominica. Working paper, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1981.Google Scholar
  83. Rothman, S. Risk and nuclear power: Scientists, journalists, and the public. Public Opinion, 1982, 47–52.Google Scholar
  84. Ruckelshaus, W., Risk in a Free Society, Risk Analysis, Vol. 4, No. 3, September, pp. 157–163, 1984.Google Scholar
  85. Saarinen, T. (ed.) Perspectives on Increasing Hazard Awareness Boulder, Colorodo: Institute of Behavioral Science, 1982.Google Scholar
  86. Sandman, P. M. and M. Paden, At Three Mile Island. Columbia Journalism Review, Vol 18, No. 2, July-August 1979, pp. 43–58.Google Scholar
  87. Sandman, P. Environmental advertising and social responsibility, in D. Rubin and D. Sachs (eds.) Mass Media and the Environment, New York: Praeger, 1973.Google Scholar
  88. Sharlin, H. I. EDB: A case study in the communication of health risk. Unpublished manuscript commissioned by the Office of Policy Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D. C., January, 1985.Google Scholar
  89. Shelanski, V., Sills, D. and Wolf, C. The Accident at Three Mile Island. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  90. Short, J. The Social Fabric of Risk. American Sociological Review, December, 1984.Google Scholar
  91. Slovic, P., Lichtenstein, S., and Fischhoff, B. Images of disaster: Perceptions and acceptance of risks from nuclear power. In G. Goodman and W. Rowe (eds.) Energy risk management London: Academic Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  92. Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B. and Lichtenstein, S. Facts and fears: Understanding perceived risk. In R. Schwing and W.A. Albers (Eds.), Social risk assessment: How safe is safe enough? New York: Plenum, 1980. Revision in D. Kahneman, P. Slovic and A. Tversky (Eds.), Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Cambridge University Press, 1982, 464–489.Google Scholar
  93. Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B. and Lichtenstein, S. Informing people about risk. In L. Morris, M. Mazis and I. Barofsky (Eds.), Product labeling and health risks, Banbury Report 6. The Banbury Center: Cold Spring Harbor, New York, 1980.Google Scholar
  94. Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., Lichtenstein, S. Perceived risk: Psychological factors and social implications. In F. Warner and D. H. Slater (Eds.), The assessment and perception of risk. London: The Royal Society, 1981.Google Scholar
  95. Squyres, W.D. Patient Education. New York: Springer, 1980.Google Scholar
  96. Susskind, L.E. The importance of citizen participation and consensus-building in the land use planning process. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Laboratory of Architecture and Planning, 1978.Google Scholar
  97. Susskind, L. Richardson, J.R., and Hildebrand, K. Resolving Environmental Disputes: Approaches to Intervention, Negotiation, and Conflict Resolution. Cambridge, MA: Environmental Impact Assessment Project, M.I.T., 1978Google Scholar
  98. Sutton, S.R. Fear arousing communications: A critical examination of theory and research. In J.R. Eiser (ed.), Social Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. New York: Wiley, pp. 303–338, 1982.Google Scholar
  99. Tribe, L.H., Corrine, S. Shelling T., and Voss (eds.) When values conflict: essays on environmental analysis, discourse and decision. Cambridge: Ballinger, 1976.Google Scholar
  100. Turner, R. H., Nigg, J. M., Paz, D. H., and Young, B. S. Community response to earthquake threat in Southern California. Institute for Social Science Research, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Ca, 1981.Google Scholar
  101. Tversky, A. Kahneman, D. The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 1981, 211, 235–271.Google Scholar
  102. Twentieth Century Fund. Science in the streets. New York: Priority Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  103. Vertinsky, I. and Vertinsky, P. Communicating environmental health assessment and other risk information: analysis of strategies. In Kunreuther, H. (ed.) Risk: a seminar series. IIASA-CP-82-S2, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, 1982, 421–482.Google Scholar
  104. Vlek, C., and Stallen, D.J. Judging risks and benefits in the small and in the large, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 28, 1981, 235–271.Google Scholar
  105. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Risk Assessment and Risk Management: Framework for Decision Making., Washington, D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, December, 1984.Google Scholar
  106. von Winterfeldt, D., John R.S. and Borcherding, K. Cognitive components of risk ratings. Risk Analysis, 1, 1981, 277–287.Google Scholar
  107. von Winterfeldt, D. and Edwards, W. Decision analysis and behavioral research. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  108. Weinstein, N. D. Why it won’t happen to me: Perceptions of risk factors and susceptibility. Health Psychology, 3, 1984, 431–457.Google Scholar
  109. Weinstein, N.D. Seeking reassuring or threatening information about environmental cancer. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2: 125–139, 1979.Google Scholar
  110. Wellborn, S. The potential of mediation for resolving environmental disputes related to energy facilities. American Management Systems, Inc., DOE/EV/10274–1, Dec.’79.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vincent T. Covello
    • 1
  • Detlof von Winterfeldt
    • 2
  • Paul Slovic
    • 3
  1. 1.National Science FoundationUSA
  2. 2.University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Decision ResearchEugeneUSA

Personalised recommendations