Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Risk Theory

pp 725-759

Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk


Cultural cognition is one of a variety of approaches designed to empirically test the “cultural theory of risk” set forth by Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. The basic premise of cultural theory is that individuals can be expected to form beliefs about societal dangers that reflect and reinforce their commitments to one or another idealized form of social ordering. Among the features of cultural cognition that make it distinctive among conceptions of cultural theory are its approach to measuring individuals’ cultural worldviews; its empirical investigation of the social psychological mechanisms that connect individuals’ risk perceptions to their cultural worldviews; and its practical goal of enabling self-conscious management of popular risk perceptions in the interest of promoting scientifically sound public policies that are congenial to persons of diverse outlooks.