The Roles of Group Membership, Beliefs, and Norms in Ecological Risk Perception

Published In: Risk Analysis, v. 25, no. 5, Oct. 2007, p. 1365-1380

Posted on on January 01, 2007

by Henry H. Willis, Michael L. DeKay

Variability in ecological risk perceptions was investigated by surveying members of four stakeholder groups commonly involved in environmental policy debates. Fifty-six individuals from government, industry, environmental, and general-public groups completed a risk-perception survey in which they evaluated 34 environmental hazards on 17 attributes and also evaluated the riskiness and acceptability of each hazard. In addition, participants reported their environmental beliefs and norms using Dunlap et al.'s revised New Ecological Paradigm Scale and modified versions of Schwartz's Awareness of Consequences and Personal Norms Scales. Group membership was predictive of participants' scores on the belief and norm scales. Factor analysis of attribute ratings (averaged across participants) revealed the anticipated three oblique factors: ecological impacts, scientific understanding, and aesthetic impacts. Factor patterns were very similar for the four stakeholder groups. Factors from the aggregate analysis were predictive of individuals' riskiness judgments, but these relationships were moderated by participants' group membership, beliefs, and norms. Compared to members of other groups, members of the general public placed less emphasis on ecological impacts and more emphasis on the other two factors when judging the ecological riskiness of hazards. To our knowledge, these results represent the first formal tests of interactions between hazard characteristics and participant characteristics in determining riskiness judgments, and illustrate how traditional psychometric analyses can be successfully coupled with individual-difference measures to improve the understanding of risk perception.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.