The Cognitive Architecture of Risk: Pancultural Unity or Cultural Shaping?

  • Eugene A. Rosa
  • Noriyuki Matsuda
  • Randall R. Kleinhesselink
Part of the Technology, Risk, and Society book series (RISKGOSO, volume 13)


The intention of this study has been to test the hypothesis of “universalism of risk perception” using several student samples from the United States and Japan. The main objective was to reveal hidden patterns of risk perception based on psychometric characteristics among and between the different samples. In particular, the study was designed to demarcate between pancultural and culturally variant features of the cognitive processes of risks. One key element was the careful selection of a comparative culture. A comparison between Japan and a Western culture provides one of the most stringent tests of the hypotheses guiding the research program. Another key element was the development of a comparative instrument, in Phase I, which met a number of language translation criteria and tests of face validity.

Phase II of the research program produced a rich data set with which to test, not only the specified hypothesis, but also to perform sub-analyses and other refinements. This data set was first analyzed using the standard factor-analytic techniques of the standard psychometric paradigm. In general, the findings from the United States-Japan comparison replicated previous results produced within this paradigm — including the cross-cultural results. The cognitive maps produced by this analysis indicated common contours between the Americans and Japanese, but different cognitive content. Without a formal basis for judging whether contour or content should be the criterion for determining which of our hypotheses were supported, the fundamental questions generating the research program remained unresolved.

To resolve them we turned to latent variable modeling in Phase III of the research program, still in progress. Thus far this phase has produced preliminary results on only the sub-set of seven nuclear risks contained in the data set. These results are, nevertheless, promising. We developed a refined, best-fitting model for each culture based upon the nuclear items. What these models seem to be telling us is that Americans and Japanese have similar images of dread and catastrophic potential underlying their perceptions of nuclear risks. But, importantly, the cognitive routes they use to arrive at those images are fundamentally different.


Risk Perception Nuclear Weapon Latent Variable Model Cognitive Architecture Japanese Sample 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eugene A. Rosa
    • 1
  • Noriyuki Matsuda
    • 2
  • Randall R. Kleinhesselink
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Policy and Planning SciencesUniversity of TsukubaTsukubaJapan
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyWashington State UniversityVancouverUSA

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