Risk perception is hard to understand. Several
factors influence it, but some of the models suggested
for risk perception have failed to explain more than a
rather small fraction of it. Some investigators have
apparently been satisfied with statistical significance
as a criterion of validity, but that is a counterproductive
Others have presented seemingly persuasive
results, but they have been based on averages
and therefore quite misleading as to the explanatory
power of the models. Practices such as these have
clouded the view of risk perception and contributed
to a premature closure. In this paper an attempt has
been made to show that much remains to be done and
some ideas about how better models of risk perception
can be formulated have been suggested.
The model suggested in Section VII implies a different
psychological functioning in risk perception
than in other models. The psychometric model is cognitive
in its conception and flavor—risks are indeed
according to this tradition, which coined
the very term “risk perception.” Here, risk perception
is a function of properties of the hazards. Even if
many more properties than real risk are considered in
the model, a stimulus–response kind of thinking is
still behind it. Cultural Theory, on the other hand, is very
different. Here, risk perception is a reflection of the
social context an individual finds him- or herself in.
The reason why this approach fails is probably that
the social context is construed in a very abstract, farfetched
manner, and that social context per se by no
means is the sole determinant of risk perception, if it
has any influence at all, which remains to be seen.
If attitude is a crucial factor in risk perception,
and the present results suggest this, then “perception”
is largely an expression of specific values (not
general; see Section VI). Risk communication would,
with such a stance, require a very different approach
from that implied by other models. The whole literature
on attitude change becomes relevant, and this is
a very extensive and well-established field. Also other
components enter— risk sensitivity and specific fear.
These are aspects that relate in a natural way to personality
and clinical psychology.
A further theme of interest is that of the
of risk perception. It is simplistic just to assume
that a high level of perceived risk carries with it
demands for risk mitigation. Other factors are of importance,
but space precludes a detailed discussion
This is a study within the CEC project RISKPERCOM
(Contract Fl4PCT950016), supported also
by the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination
of Research (FRN), the Swedish Council for
Humanistic and Social Science Research (HSFR), the
Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI), and
the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute (SSI).
1. L. Sjöberg, “Risk Perception by the Public and by Experts: A
Dilemma in Risk Management,” Human Ecology Review 6,
2. L. Sjöberg, “Policy Implications of Risk Perception Research:
A Case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?” paper presented at
Risk Analysis: Opening the Process, organized by Society for
Risk Analysis—Europe, Paris, October 11–14, 1998.
3. L. Sjöberg, A. af Wåhlberg, and P. Kvist, “The Rise of Risk: Risk
Related Bills Submitted to The Swedish Parliament in 1964–65
and 1993–95,” Journal of Risk Research 1, 191–195 (1998).
Table V. Regression Analyses of General Risk of Domestic
Nuclear Power and X-ray Diagnostics, General Risk
Attitude 0.304 0.162
Specific radiation risk (nonnuclear) 0.297 0.225
General risk sensitivity (nonnuclear,
nonradiation) 0.259 0.336
adj 0.459 0.33
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