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Public Perceptions of Risk: Thinking and Feeling Our Way through a Complex World. Melissa Finucane Melissa.Finucane@EastWestCenter.org PRiMO Workshop, March 16, 2010. Fundamental Question. How do people make decisions under conditions of risk and uncertainty?. Fatality Risk 5 x 10 -6.
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Public Perceptions of Risk: Thinking and Feeling Our Way through a Complex World Melissa Finucane Melissa.Finucane@EastWestCenter.org PRiMO Workshop, March 16, 2010
Fundamental Question How do people make decisions under conditions of risk and uncertainty?
Fatality Risk 5 x 10-6 Decision Making under Uncertainty: Tricky Questions Are communities’ reactions to risk legitimate? Why do people’s perceptions differ? Why do differences persist, despite education?
Practical Importance • To articulate gaps between different stakeholder values • To facilitate risk debates and communications • To improve decision processes and outcomes • To reduce global conflict via governance agreements that have cross-cultural legitimacy and a sense of ownership for all involved
Theoretical Importance: Sound Models • Accurately describe underlying processes • Allow for and explain individual and group differences • Generalize across risk domains • Predict how DM, task, and context characteristics influence risk perceptions and behavioral responses
UNKNOWN Dimensions of Risk DREADED NOT DREADED KNOWN Source: Slovic 1987
Attitudes Toward Regulation of Hazards The larger the point the greater the desire for strict regulation to reduce risk
Differences in Risk Preferences • Chinese less risk averse than Americans (Hsee & Weber, 1999; Weber & Hsee, 1998) • Cushion hypothesis • More help available in a socially collectivist society so more risky gambles OK • Less risk aversion among Chinese only for investment decisions • Risk preferences related to size and quality of social networks
What’s going on? • Differences in social structure and social practice • Temporary effects of orientation on perception • But is it possible to move people from one orientation to another?
U.S. National Phone Surveys: Gender, Race, and Perceived Risk • Risks tend to be judged as lower by men than women • e.g., nuclear power, war, living near soil pollution/ chemical plant • Poorly understood • difficult to isolate effects of gender and race from covarying sociopolitical factors
Expert Differences(British Society of Toxicologists) Percent female moderate and high-risk responses minus perception male moderate- and high-risk responses from Slovic et al. (1997)
Flynn et al.:The “white-male” effect Mean risk perception ratings by race and gender (Flynn et al., 1994)
Results: Food risk perceptions Mean risk perception ratings by race and gender (Finucane et al., 2000)
Risk Perceptions Reflect Deep-Seated Values • People with low risk perceptions are more likely: • to agree with statements reflecting hierarchical views “When a risk is very small, it is OK for society to impose that risk on individuals without their consent” • to disagree with egalitarian statements “The world needs more equal distribution of wealth” • to disagree with community-based decision making “People living near a nuclear power plant should be able to vote and to close the plant if they think it is not being run safely”
Policy Implications • Different worldviews matter because they determine which approach to safety will be supported • Sheehy et al (1996): • Hierarchists prefer expert groups • Egalitarians prefer personal choice and endorse labeling • All want to be involved in DM, but some more willing to trust the judgment of others
But that’s not the whole picture (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003)
Why the difference? Opt In Check the box below if you want to participate in the organ donor program. People don’t check the box… anddon’t join Opt Out Check the box below if you don’t want to participate in the organ donor program. People don’t check the box… andjoin
A real-world example, kind of • Attentional blindness (Dan Simon) • When primed to look for one thing, we might miss something else. • How can we overcome this?
Two Modes of Processing Source: Adapted from Epstein, 1994.
Dual-Process Models • Analytic and affective processes • Work in partnership to identify and prioritize experiences that are valued positively (pursued) or negatively (avoided) • Comprehensively govern the valuation of risk information in order to maintain a particular way of life
Donating money to save statistical and identified lives • Statistical Lives • Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children • In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42 percent drop in maize production from 2000. As a result, an estimated 3 million Zambians face hunger • Four million Angolans—one third of the population—have been forced to flee their homes Identifiable Lives Any money that you donate will go to Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Malawi, Africa. Rokia is desperately poor, and faces a threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed her, provide her with education, as well as basic medical care and hygiene education. Source: Small, Loewenstein, & Slovic (2007)
Donations Statistical Lives Identifiable Life Identifiable Life with Statistics
Crocker Bay, Canada by Spencer Wynn “This thought-provoking photo [was taken] in August along the Northwest Passage in Canada’s high Arctic waters. “This scene not only was beautiful, but also spoke volumes on the subject of global warming” he says.”
What Does All this Mean? • Risk communication is a process of translation • Pay attention to context (culture, hazard information, affect) • Risk communication/management strategies need to accommodate diverse and often subtle cultural values and psychological processes