Academic journal article Journal of Risk and Insurance

The Perception of Risk

Academic journal article Journal of Risk and Insurance

The Perception of Risk

Article excerpt

The Perception of Risk, by Paul Slovic, 2000, in Risk, Society and Policy Series, London and Sterling, Va., EARTHSCAN Publications Ltd

Reviewer: J. Francois Outreville, United Nations Staff Mutual Insurance Society, Geneva

The study of risk perception began in the 1970s as an exercise in individual psychology. Almost every study of risk perception has found age, education, and gender effects. For example, men seem to be less concerned about hazards than do women, and individuals in a group seem to be more risk averse than the group itself. Further research has also demonstrated that important social, political, and cultural factors play an important role.

This book is a collection of 26 articles on the perception of risk published in several journals from 1974 to 2000. The articles are unfortunately in chronological order (except for Chapter 16) and encompass early work in the psychometric paradigm that is distinguished by comparisons of large sets of hazards containing items as diverse as bicycles and nuclear power plants (Chapters 5-10), as well as subsequent studies that have been dedicated to hazards within the same domain (Chapters 12 and 15-23). The last two chapters (25 and 26) present risk assessment issues in modern industrialized societies, and as such they highlight the importance of considering judgment processes.

The reviewer will not compete with the excellent introduction and overview presented by the editor and co-author of all the articles collected. The introduction explains the history and developments in research on risk perception. The psychometric paradigm as defined by the author assumes that risk is subjectively defined by individuals who may be influenced by a wide range of psychological, social, institutional, and cultural factors. Psychometric techniques using questionnaires or interviews seem well suited for identifying similarities and differences among groups with regard to risk perception and attitude. One of the strengths of this approach is its broad descriptive capability. This is illustrated in several articles in plots of hazards in a two-dimensional space (Figure 5 in Chapter 5, Figure 1 in Chapter 8, and Figure 1 in Chapter 13).

Chapters 1, 2, 8, and 9 present the theoretical framework in judgmental biases. People's perception of risk is clearly associated with their representation of hazards and distorted judgments of risks, and the degree of biases is fundamental in the understanding of perceived risk (Chapters 5 and 8). …

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