The effect on risk perception of increasing the cognitive availability of accident scenarios
Godfrey, Sandra Sheen
Laughery, Kenneth R., Sr.
Doctor of Philosophy
Consistent biases in the perception of risk have been demonstrated by research. An imaging task was used in this study in an attempt to change those perceptions. The task consisted of sketching scenarios depicting an accident involving eight different hazards. The task effected a change in self risk ratings taken before and after the task, but the change was different for each of two groups of hazards. The hazards were divided into a high and a low group based on the pre-task self risk ratings. Lawnmower, toaster, coffee maker, and bicycle were found to be initially perceived as low risk. Pesticide, swimming pool, asbestos, and power saw were in the initially perceived high risk group. Pre-post self risk rating change scores showed an increase for the low risk group and a decrease for the high risk group. The interaction between sketching and not sketching an accident and the initial perceptions of low and high risk was significant. This finding lends hope that the accident scenario imaging method can be used to correct biases in the perception of risk of certain hazards. An additional analysis addressed the relationship between the perception of risk and other cognitions. Self risk ratings were found to be more closely related to probability estimates for injuries to self than to injury frequency estimates for the general public. Frequency and probability estimates do not tell the whole story, however, as far as risk perception is concerned. Perceptions for the severity of the consequences of an injury caused by the hazard, the catastrophic potential of the hazard, the ease of imagining an injury caused by the hazard, and the extent of exposure to the hazard are also significantly related to the perception of risk to self presented by the hazard. Important differences were observed in this study between perception of risk for self and for others. These findings highlight important considerations in the study and measurement of risk perception which is an important part of any effort to de-bias risk perception. When risk perception is found to be biased in a potentially harmful manner, an understanding of the role of the cognitive availability of accident scenarios and how to change that availability might then be used to correct those biases.
Social psychology; Experimental psychology