Culture and Cognition

Understanding Public Perceptions of Risk and (In)Action

Published in: IBM Journal of Research and Development (2019) doi: https://doi.org/10.1147/JRD.2019.2952330

Posted on RAND.org on December 12, 2019

by Terry Allen, Emily Wells, Kelly Klima

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Much is known about the effects of risk on behavior and communication, yet little research has considered how these risks influence modes of cultural and cognitive processing dynamics that underlie public perceptions, communications, and social (in)action. This article presents a psychological model of risk communications that demonstrates how cognitive structure, cultural schema, and environment awareness could be combined to improve risk communication. We illustrate the explanatory value of the model's usefulness on two qualitative case studies: one on decision makers facing extreme heat, and another on homeowners facing flood events. Consistent with the model predictions, we find that cognitive structure, cultural schema, and environment awareness dynamics are not only necessary determinants to strengthen risk communications, but also important for understanding perceptions of risk and people's (in)action to engage in mitigation and adoption efforts. This suggests that decision makers hoping to reduce disaster risk or improve disaster resilience may wish to consider how these three dynamics exist and interact.

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