ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2008, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (04): 456-465.

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How Can a Risk Be Increased?
–An Analysis of Risk Communication Channels–

XIE Xiao-Fei; LI Jie;YU Qing-Yuan   

  1. Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2006-12-21 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2008-04-30 Online:2008-04-30
  • Contact: Xie Xiaofei

Abstract: A risk is objective; however, its perception is subjective. This subjectivity is based on many factors (risk communication style, probability of the occurrence of risky events, etc.) with a relative stability and measurability. However, a gap exists between subjective perception and the objective risk. The psychometric paradigm proposed by Slovic is the most widely-used method to qualitatively analyze risk perception using psychometric scaling. It enables researchers to obtain dimensions that affect risk perception. Relevant researches in the field were all based on the paradigm. Findings showed that different sensory channels, information delivery channels, and types of environmental risks affected risk perception. Therefore, using the psychometric paradigm, this research aimed to explore the effects of risk communication styles and risk type on risk perception, and to determine the factors that cause individual perception to deviate from the actual situation.
The participants were college students, with 178 participants in study 1 and 274 in study 2. The research combined an experimental design and a questionnaire survey, providing participants with actual environmental risk materials. The effects of different types of risks (man-made vs. natural) and image information (with vs. without pictures) were examined, with inputs from different sensory channels (in voice vs. in words) and information delivery channels on risk perception. ANOVA regression analysis with gender as the covariate and an independent sample t-test were used to analyze the data.
The experimental design was used with the risk type and sensory channels as the within-subject variables and whether or not a picture was presented as the between-subject variable. Study 1 found that man-made risks aroused a higher level of risk perception than natural risks, and identical results were observed for the presentation of the image. However, the inputs from different sensory channels did not affect risk perception. In study 2, where real-life coverage of risk information by TV and Web pages were simulated, their effects on risk perception as compared with the risk type as the within-subject variable and the information delivery channel as the between-subject variable provided the result that a stronger risk perception was evoked by TV than by Web pages.
The research, for the first time ever, combined a pure psychometric paradigm and actual environmental risk information. This offset the accompanying limitations when the psychometric paradigm was used alone to some extent, namely, the constraint in the participants’ freedom to generate risk characteristics themselves and an excessive reliance upon the sample and the data derived from the result. The present study offers a deeper understanding of people’s perception of the risks in real life and a better practical value in launching an effective risk communication strategy. Therefore, it is advisable to consider adopting this method in future researches. The results indicate that sensory channels did not influence risk perception. However, whether or not risk perception was affected by the presentation of a picture and the different information delivery channels has implications in actual risk communication situations. The concerned authority should resort to different and effective media through which the information conveyed is taken into account, in order to achieve the desired objective of their program in accordance with their highly specific goals

Key words: risk perception, environmental risk, communication channel

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