Cross-Cultural Studies on the Perception and Evaluation of Hazards
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In a series of socio-psychological field studies, perceptions and subjective evaluations of risky activities and environmental conditions were investigated in several countries. The aim of this cross-cultural project is to analyze the cognitive structure of judgments about the magnitude and acceptability of risks to which individuals are exposed; to explore disparities between different societal groups; and to compare risk judgments across countries in which risk issues in general as well as particular risk sources (e.g., industrial facilities or natural hazards) have different salience.
In a first series of studies, data were collected in Germany (N=217), New Zealand (N=224) and Australia (N=272). In each country, four groups of respondents were defined: people with a “technological”, “monetarian”, “ecological” or “feminist” orientation. Participants were asked for judgments on 24 hazards (based on a taxonomy) according to 12 risk aspects (derived from a structural risk perception model).
In a second phase, a modified data collection was conducted in China (N=270), and that study was fully repeated in Australia (N=203). Regarding hazards, 12 previously used items and 12 new items were included. The sampling in both countries focused on 3 groups of students (i.e., Geography, Psychology, Engineering) and a group of scientists.
Data comparisons for countries, for societal or professional groups and for types of risks yield a complex picture. Cross-cultural disparities are evident in two ways: groups affiliated with a particular professional, cultural and political orientations differ considerably in their judgment and evaluation of hazards; and considerable cross-national variation in risk perception exists as well. It is also obvious that some hazards are perceived as either more perilous or less severe than epidemiological risk data would suggest.
The results demonstrate the strong influence of socio-psychological factors and the cultural quality of risk evaluations. The findings are significant for a better understanding of people’s subjective risk appraisal and also societal risk controversies. They can be utilized for designing comprehensive risk information, communication and education programs within and across cultural contexts.
This cross-cultural project will be continued and extended, with data collections in Germany and Singapore completed and currently undertaken in Canada and Japan.
KeywordsNuclear Power Plant Risk Perception Risk Communication German Data Coal Power Plant
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