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The influence of outrage and technical detail on the perception of environmental health risks

De invloed van onlust en technische details op de perceptie van milieugezondheidsrisico's


Differences in risk perception between a professional assessing a risk and a concerned community affected by this risk have been shown to be important obstacles in the communication of environmental health risks. The study reported here aimed at gaining insight into factors that influence people's concerns about risk and that may determine their risk perception. The study focused specifically on the potential influence of the amount of technical detail and outrage provided in risk messages. This study made use of four fictional newspaper stories, with manipulated outrage factors and numbers of technical (risk) details. Four versions, i.e. low technical detail and low outrage; low technical detail and high outrage; high technical detail and low outrage and high technical detail and high outrage were made of each story. The study participants received one version of each story and were asked to imagine that the stories had appeared in their local newspapers, and that they were faced with the situations described. For each story, participants filled in a questionnaire showing their personal assessment of the situation. By manipulating outrage and technical detail, singularly or in combination, it was possible to study how these factors influenced risk perception. Analyses indicated neither a significant relation between outrage and risk perception (except for people's perception of the controllability of the risk), nor between technical detail and risk perception. Neither did the manipulations significantly affect people's risk acceptance. Other factors-such as a person's gender, age, education, previous familiarity with the risk, one's natural tendency to take or avoid risks and whether or not the person had children- proved to be much stronger predictors of people's risk perception and acceptability, but these factors were all beyond the control of the agency or corporate communicator.

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