Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Risk perception and emotion
What is the effect of emotion on risk perception?
Emotions play an important role in risk perception. Emotions such as worry or dread can be the result of an individual’s knowledge about a particular risk, which can then have an influence on their risk perception. This book chapter will provide you with general background knowledge on risk perception and emotion with specific interests into characteristicsthat identify emotion and risk perception as being related. It will introduce some theories that explain risk perception, and briefly concentrate on two important theories in more detail. It will also aim to give an understanding on:
- The basic concepts/definitions
- How risk perception and emotion are interconnected
- A history of risk perception
- Why policy makers and planners are involved
- Different scenarios where an emotion has an effect on risk perception
Definition of risk perception
Risk perception is a difficult concept to define and varies considerably from the general term of risk. Risk perception refers to the assessment of the probability of a specified type of accident happening such as health or threats to the environment, and how concerned we are with these consequences and effects. To perceive risk includes evaluation of the probability and the consequences of a negative outcome. (Sjoberg, Moen & Rundmo, 2004) In other words, it is a judgment people make about the severity of a risk by going further with evaluation and relating it to aspects of their social world reflecting values, history and ideology (Weinstein, 1980). Examples of perceived risk activities include, but not limited to:
- Nuclear energy
- Motor vehicles
- Vaccinations (Slovic, 2007)
What is risk?
Risk itself is defined as the likelihood that an individual will experience the effect of danger. It can also be defined as a situation or event where something of human value is at stake and the outcome is uncertain (Rosa, 2003). When it comes to risk there is a distinction between reality and possibility and the element of uncertainty is also closely related (Sjoberg, Moen & Rundmo, 2004).
What is emotion?
Emotion is another term that is difficult to define and in its simplest term are short-lived feelings and expressions an individual is experiencing in different settings, opportunities and challenges throughout life. However, they are much more complex than that. Emotions exist as subjective, biological, purposive and social phenomena (Izard, 1993). Emotions are subjective feelings as they make us feel a particular way such as joyful or sad, and they are also biological reactions that prepare the body to adapt to a certain situation (Reeves, 2009). They are purposeful as emotions such as anger can motivate us to do what we otherwise might not (Reeves, 2009) if there wasn’t a forceful emotion pushing us,for example anger over a recently passed government law this can create citizens to get together in a protest. Emotions show how other people are feeling through facial expressions, vocalizing their opinion and the way they are speaking for example a trembling voice or shouting in agitation; this provides others with an idea of the emotions someone is feeling. Emotions are different to moods and the main difference is linked to the duration, moods are continuous and tend to last for a longer period of time like days or weeks (Lee, 2009).
There are two main elements of risk when an individual assesses a situation and these are ‘dread risk’, which relates to subjective feelings such as control and catastrophic potential. The other is dimension is ‘unknown risk’ which refers to the assessment of a hazard with anunobservable and delayed effects. (Lee, 2009). Two implication apply based on the work of Michaelsen, Peters & Slovic and these are that individuals do not always agree with an experts perception of risk (Slovic, 2000), and that the perception of the two risk types can be influenced by a certain individuals traits or goals. As people have different beliefs, attitudes, cultures, thoughts and experiences it is hard to find people who share the same perception of risk.
Slovic (2000) and Gordon-Lubitz (2003) conducted a study on risk perception called the ‘framing effect’, which refers to how information can be framed in a way that relates to a persons emotional state. So if the information was presented in a positive way because the persons present emotional state was happy then the individual would be more likely to accept and react in a positive way. This is the same as if the information was framed in a way that clashing with an individual’s present emotional state then obedience is less likely (Lee, 2009). This shows that emotion is correlated with a person’s view of risk.
History of risk perception
Scientists and social scientists began research on the question how do people respond to notions of risk? What prompted this research dates back to the 1960s when there was an increase in nuclear technologies, which sparked great fear among the general public. The public feared long term dangers to the environment as well as radioactive dangers (Gorman, 2013). This sparked an interest in this particular area of study. Risk perception is not always based on rational decisions and providing more information will not alleviate peoples irrational ideas and thoughts (Gorman, 2013).There have been a number of studies that have been conducted to examine the way people perceive risk, how they manage it and how they live with it (Botterill & Mazur, 2004).
It is important to mention the study of Johnson and Tversky (1983) who discovered that participants who read a story implying a negative mood were less optimistic about concerning the risks of various causes of death than participants whose moods had not been manipulated. Participants who had read a story inducing a positive mood were more optimistic (Drace & Ric, 2012). This study has been identified as extremely important as it indicates that the perception of risk could be a major determinant in the engagement of risky behaviour (Drace et al., 2012).
Traits of emotion and risk perception
Researchers studying risk perception have identified the characteristics and emotions of risk that influence perception.
- Dread - Is a characteristic that relates to the emotion ‘fear’ and it is an idea where a situation is frightening or worrying for example people worry about health problems like cancer . People worry about chemicals and effects that can cause cancer because of the fear of obtaining a health problem from it. This is an example of when we think about a risk in relation to our feelings, it is also known as the heuristic effect (Slovic, Finucane, Alhakami, Johnson, 2000). Fear has a powerful impact on the perception of risk and people usually underestimate risks because they believe that they themselves are at less of a risk than others .
- Control - When people feel like they have control over a situation the risk will not seem as big compared to if they have no control over it. For example, a person would feel in control if they are driving a car which can give emotions such as happiness and satisfaction, however if they are in the passengers seat they may encounter emotions such as worry as they are not in control (Schmidt, 2004).
- Natural Vs Man-made - The origin of a risk can play a big role in whether people perceive it as a risk or not for example most people think that if it is a natural phenomenon like the sun, this is considered as less of a risk then nuclear energy sources, even though thousands of people each year get skin cancer from the sun. The unknown risk factors of nuclear energy make people feel uncomfortable and afraid of what could happen (Schmidt, 2004).
These characteristics have a significant influence on perceived risk, and it shows how emotion can be implementedand affected in these situations.
Emotions play a significant role in risk perception. Different emotions will have different effects on an individuals risk perception. For exampleif you are feeling happy then you might have different thoughts to if you are feeling sad. This was found in the experimental test for the Appraisal Tendencies Framework (ATF) where it was discovered that angry and happy participants made more optimistic risk estimates than participants who were made sad (Drace et al., 2012) . This is just one example, there are many theories, models and hypotheses which offer different explanations in the affects of risk perception.
List of theories/hypothesis/models
- Associate Network Theory (Bower, 1981) - Says that moods activate congruent material in memory that is later used to interpret incoming information (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974).
- Affect of Information model - Believes that people rely on their effective states as a source of information regarding the global status of their environment (Schwartz, 1990). What this implies is that a positive affect informs people that their surrounding environment is safe, whereas a negative affect implies a problematic surrounding environment (Drace et al., 2012).
- Cultural Theory - States that each culture has a specific way of life and different outlooks on different types of risks.
- Decision making theory
There has been decades of work done in thearea and there are two theories that outshine the others which will be described in more detail.
Theory 1. Psychometric paradigm
The psychometric paradigm is a research in the area of public attitudes towards risk. It involves multiple studies to examine the relationship between risk characteristics and risk perceptions in individuals and why they differ between people. In the psychometric paradigm people make judgments about current riskiness of certain hazards and the regulation of each (Slovic, 2007). These judgments are then related to other judgments on the characteristics, for risk perception such as knowledge, control, benefits, number of deaths and dread. Studies from from Slovic show that risk perception is predictable (Siegrist, Keller & Kiers, 2005). Research by Finucane and Slovic found that people saw most risks in society as being very high. They found that the more people perceived a benefit, the bigger the chance of tolerance for a risk. Research has proven that risk perception is immensely dependent on emotions and intuition. The more a person dreads an activity, the greater its perceived risk and the more a person wants the risk to be less risky. This is especially the case when the risk is new or the science is not fully understood. This gives the general public higher concern then if it is a risk they are informative about. An example of this is climate change where generally communities do not know the scientific information behind it, only what they see or hear from the media. The psychometric paradigm has gained wide credibility (Rundmo et al., 2004). The psychometric paradigm is a theoretical framework that assumes risk to be defined by individuals who may be influenced by a range of social, psychological, institutional and cultural factors (Rundmo et al., 2004). The psychometric scaling can identify similarities and differences in risk perception among different groups (Slovic et al., 1985). These are the basic works of the psychometric paradigm, which has been researched and studied thoroughly.
Theory 2. Risk-as-feelings hypothesis
Risk-as-feelings hypothesis draws on fields of psychology and shows that emotional reactions to risky situations often diverge from cognitive assessments of those risks. When these divergences occur, the emotional reaction drives behaviour. This hypothesis highlights the role that affect has at the moment of decision-making (Welch et al, 2001). The risk-as-feelings hypothesis also states that our emotions exert a powerful influence on our judgments for example people who read sad newspaper articles give higher risk estimates for a variety of potential causes of death than people who read happy newspaper articles (Welch et al., 2001). This hypothesis explains why our emotions have an effect on risk perception.
Examples of when emotion effects risk perception
Here are four examples of completely different situations where the perceived risk is effected by certain emotions
- Emotions can influence unconscious, cognitive processes like perception, attention and memory. For doctors who have made a human error in diagnosing a patient or a crucial mistake in the operation room, the emotion of guilt and fear can have an effect on them, along with the routine of dealing with negative influences of illness and death, the range of their emotions could impact their behaviour and how they care for other patients. These effects could also be due to long hours which can impact on them physically and emotionally (Wolf, Potter, Sledge, Boxerman, Grayson, & Evanoff, 2006). In this example the emotion of guilt and fear can have an effect on the doctor and his ability to do his required task in the future as it can be seen as a risk due to previous failures .
- Another example of risk perception is how some people have extreme fears of nuclear energy, yet they are not afraid or scared of driving cars, even though there have been many car crashes resulting in thousands of deaths each year (Schmidt, 2004). It seems less scary then a nuclear accident because driving in cars is familiar and knowable. People already know how car crashes can happen and most of the time the news is not new information, however there are different reactions to nuclear energy because of the lack of information about it (Schimdt, 2004). There is also the same fear where people are afraid of flying, yet there are far more car crashes than plane crashes. So in this case even though there is a lower risk of it happening, a nuclear accident induces a higher rate of fear then an incident like a car crash which is much more likely.
- One of the most talked about examples of emotion and risk perception involves the September 11 terrorist attacks. After these attacks there was a dramatic decrease in air travel, due to worry of another attack . This resulted in a huge loss to the aviation industry and it was found that there were more deaths and car accidents on the road due to an increase in road activity (Burns, 2007). A study by Fischhoff et al., 2004 showed that travelers willingness to get to their destination depended on the level of worry and fear they had of terrorism risks. In this example it is clear that the emotion of worry, anxiety and terror affected the popularity of air travel because of the risk that another terrorist attack might occur.
- An increase in shark attacks in Western Australia has prompted great fear amongst swimmers and the general public . However, there are some surfers who are still going into the areas where sharks have been spotted and continuing on with their hobby. This is an example of how emotions such as excitement, fuelled by adrenaline does not have an effect on the perceived risk that they face .
Policy makers and planning
Risk perception has become an important topic to politicians and policy makers concerned with technology, transport and safety issues. It was first introduced as a main determinant of public opposition to new technology, the most famous being nuclear technology (Martin, 1989). Understanding how stakeholders and the broader community perceive risk can assist the policy makers in developing better policies that have more effective means for programs in areas involving risk management.
Relationship between emotion and risk perception can affect the behaviours that policy makers and management work on. In some countries, the issue of risk perception now receives three times the amount of attention more then is used to (Sioberg, Moen & Rundmo, 2004)
Risk consists of different elements that need to be considered as a whole for a good understanding of how individuals and groups of people perceive risks. Emotion has been shown to play an important role in how people process risk information and respond to potential threats (Lowenstein et al., 2001). The risk-as-feelings example shows how feelings can play an important role in risky decision making.
Social scientists, anthropologists and sociologists have mainly studied risk perception and there has been much learnt in regards to peoples perception of risk, how likely they are to respond to different types of hazards and how effective risk communication is (Taylor-Gooby & Zinn, 2006). It is noted that peoples’ perception of risk, responses and resilience differs across cultures and communities. Some of the main characteristics that lead to risk perceptions with emotional attachments include dread, control and whether the risk is man-made or natural. Two factors of risk include ‘dread’ and ‘unknown’ risk,these show how public perception of hazards can differ to that of experts (Burns, 2007). The role of emotion has an influence on how communities and populations respond to threats of the future. Cognitive evaluations can affect emotional states (Johnson & Tversky, 1983). The relationship between emotion and risk perception among societies has lead to effective policies in order to mitigate risks as well as irrational fears (Burns, 2007) . This is why it has become an important topic to policy makers and planners.
The role of emotion has an effect on how communities respond to threats of the future. The type of effect emotions have largely depend on what the perceived risk is and how it makes certain individuals feel .
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