Skip to main content

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

  • Chapter

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.

The views and conclusions expressed in this paper are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and conclusions of the National Science Foundation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4684-5317-1_19
  • Chapter length: 19 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-1-4684-5317-1
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Bibliography

  • 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 

  • Alcalay, R., The impace of mass communication in the health field. Social Science and Medicine., 17, 87–94, 1983.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Barber, B. The Logic and Limits of Trust. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1983.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bingham, G. Resolving environmental disputes: A decade of experience. Washington D.C.: The Conservation Foundation, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Burger, E., Health Risks: The Challenge of Informing the Public, Washington, D.C.: The Media Institute, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • Busterud, J. Mediation: The state of the art. Environmental Professional, 1980, 2, 34–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Combs, B. and Slovic, P. Newspaper Coverage of Causes of Death. Journalism Quarterly, 1979, 56, 837–843.

    Google Scholar 

  • Covello, V. T. The Perception of Technological Risks: A Literature Review. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 1983, 23, 285–297.

    Google Scholar 

  • Covello, V. T. Uses of social and behavioral research on risk. Environment International, June, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Conrad, J. (Ed.) Society, technology, and risk assessment. New York; Academic Press, 1980.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cormick, G.W. The theory and practice of environmental mediation. Environmental Professional, 1980, 2, 24–33.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coser, L.A. The functions of social conflict. New York: Free Press, 1956.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Cutter, S. and Barnes, K. Evacuation behavior and Three Mile Island. Disasters, 1982, 6, 116–124.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Douglas, M. Purity and danger London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966.

    Google Scholar 

  • Douglas, M. and Wildaysky, A. Risk and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eagly, A. H. and Chaiken, S. Psychological theories of persuasion. In L. Berkowitz (ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology. 1985.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • 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, 1983

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P. and Lichtenstein, S. Weighing the risks. Environment, 1979, 21, 17–10, 32–38.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fischhoff, B., Watson, S., and Hope, C. Defining risk. Policy Sciences, 1984, 17, 123–139.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fishbein, M. and Ajzen, I. Belief, attitude, intention and behavior: An introuduction to theory and research. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Gibson, M. (ed.) To Breathe Freely: Risk, Consent, and Air. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, C. H. Risk: Attitudes and beliefs. In D. V. Canter (ed.), Behavior in fires. Chichester: Wiley, 1980.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Gross, J. L. and Rayner, S. Measuring Culture: A Paradigm for the Analysis of Social Organization. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hodler, T. W. Residents’ preparedness and response to the Kalamazoo tornado. Disasters, 1982, 2, 44–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, B. and Covello, V. (eds.) The Social Construction of Risk. Boston: Reidel, 1986 (forthcoming).

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, E. J., and Tversky, A. Affect, generalization, and the perception of risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1983, 45, 2031

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Keeney, R.L., and Raiffa, H. Decisions with multiple objectives: Preferences and value tradeoffs. New York: Wiley, 1976.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kiesler, C.A.. Collins, B.E., and Miller, N. Attitude change. New York: Wiley, 1968.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Lagadec, P. Major Technological Disaster. Oxford: Pergamon, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levine, A. G. Love Canal: Science, politics, and People. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • Lindell, M., Perry, W. and Greene, M., Individual response to emergency preparedness planning near Mt. St. Helens, Disaster Management, January- March, 5–11, 1983

    Google Scholar 

  • Lipset, S. and Schneider, W. The Confidence Gap: Business, Labor and Government in the Public Mind. New York: The Free Press, 1983.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lowrance, W. Of Acceptable Risk: Science and the Determination of Safety. Los Altos, CA: Kaufman, 1976.

    Google Scholar 

  • Luce, D. and Raiffa, H. Games and decisions. New York: Wiley, 1957.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • MacLean, D., (ed.) Values at Risk, Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1986.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mazur, A., Disputes between experts., Minerva. 11, pp. 243–262, 1973

    Google Scholar 

  • Mazur, A. The dynamics of technical controversy. Washington, D.C.: Communications Press, 1981.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mazur, A. Media coverage and public opinion on scientific controversies. Journal of Communications Research, 1980, 31, 106–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Media Institute, Chemical Risks: Fears, Facts, and the Media, Washington, D.C.: Media Institute, 1985.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Mileti, D., Drabek, T. and Haas, E. Human behavior in extreme environments. Boulder, Co.: University of Colorado, 1975.

    Google Scholar 

  • McGuire, W. J. Attitudes and attitude change. In Lindzey and Aronson (eds.) Handbook of social psychology, 1985.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • Nelkin, D. (ed.) Controversy: Politics of technical decisions, Beverly Hills: Sage, 1978.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nelkin, D. and Brown, M. Workers at risk: Voices from the workplace, University of Chicago Press, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • Otway, H., Maurer, D. and Thomas, K. Nuclear power: The question of public acceptance. Futures, 1978, 10, 109–118.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Otway, H.J. and v. Winterfeldt, D. Beyond acceptable risk: on the social acceptability of technologies. Policy Sciences, 8, 1982, 127–152.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pate-Cornell, M.E. Warning systems in risk management. Risk Analysis, Vol. 6, No. 2, June 1986

    Google Scholar 

  • Peltu, M. Risk communication: The role of the media. In H. Otway (Ed.), Risk and regulation. London: Butterworths, 1985.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perrow, C. Normal accidents. New York: Basic Books, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Popper, F. The Environmentalists and the LULU ( Local Unwanted Land Use.) Environment, March 1985

    Google Scholar 

  • Quarantelli, E. and Dynes, R. Response to social crisis and disaster. Annual Review of Sociology, 1977, 3 23–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Raiffa, H. The art and science of negotiation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Rice, R.E., and W.J. Paisley (eds.), Public Communication Campaigns., Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robertson, L. The great seat belt campaign flop. Journal of Communication., 26, pp. 41–45, 1976.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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, 1974

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • Rothman, S. Risk and nuclear power: Scientists, journalists, and the public. Public Opinion, 1982, 47–52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruckelshaus, W., Risk in a Free Society, Risk Analysis, Vol. 4, No. 3, September, pp. 157–163, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saarinen, T. (ed.) Perspectives on Increasing Hazard Awareness Boulder, Colorodo: Institute of Behavioral Science, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • Shelanski, V., Sills, D. and Wolf, C. The Accident at Three Mile Island. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1982.

    Google Scholar 

  • Short, J. The Social Fabric of Risk. American Sociological Review, December, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • Squyres, W.D. Patient Education. New York: Springer, 1980.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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., 1978

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • Tversky, A. Kahneman, D. The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 1981, 211, 235–271.

    Google Scholar 

  • Twentieth Century Fund. Science in the streets. New York: Priority Press, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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 

  • 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 

  • United States Environmental Protection Agency, Risk Assessment and Risk Management: Framework for Decision Making., Washington, D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, December, 1984.

    Google Scholar 

  • von Winterfeldt, D., John R.S. and Borcherding, K. Cognitive components of risk ratings. Risk Analysis, 1, 1981, 277–287.

    Google Scholar 

  • von Winterfeldt, D. and Edwards, W. Decision analysis and behavioral research. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weinstein, N. D. Why it won’t happen to me: Perceptions of risk factors and susceptibility. Health Psychology, 3, 1984, 431–457.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Weinstein, N.D. Seeking reassuring or threatening information about environmental cancer. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2: 125–139, 1979.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • 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 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 1987 Plenum Press, New York

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Covello, V.T., von Winterfeldt, D., Slovic, P. (1987). Communicating Scientific Information About Health and Environmental Risks: Problems and Opportunities from a Social and Behavioral Perspective. In: Covello, V.T., Lave, L.B., Moghissi, A., Uppuluri, V.R.R. (eds) Uncertainty in Risk Assessment, Risk Management, and Decision Making. Advances in Risk Analysis, vol 4. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4684-5317-1_19

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4684-5317-1_19

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Boston, MA

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4684-5319-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-4684-5317-1

  • eBook Packages: Springer Book Archive