What makes risk acceptable? Revisiting the 1978 psychological dimensions of perceptions of technological risks

December 2016
With Fox-Glassman, K. Journal of Mathematical Psychology. Volume 75, December 2016, Pages 157–169

The complex nature of perceived risk and the influence of perceived risks and benefits on risk acceptability or risk taking have been analyzed in multiple ways. R. Duncan Luce made important contributions to both normative and descriptive models of quantitative definitions of risk and risk acceptability, concentrating on the effects of possible outcomes and their probability. Fischhoff, Slovic, and Lichtenstein, in contrast, assessed a set of qualitative and affective dimensions of perceived technological and social risk and analyzed their effects on perceived risk and risk acceptability. The current research presents a minimally modified replication of their 1978 study, eliciting risk perceptions from a diverse group of US residents. After almost 40 years, we find a pattern of rank-ordered risk perceptions that remains practically unchanged, and is still explained by two factors: dread and uncertainty. We find, however, that today dread risk shows a greater influence than it did in the original study, and now reflects stronger contributions of the voluntary and uncontrollable risk characteristics. We end by reflecting on the mutual impact of different types of risk research and point out promising future research directions.