Risk Perception and Coping
Sarah E. Spedden Harvard University School of Public Health
All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.
-- Leonardo da Vinci
Cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally, we respond to the conditions that surround us. We notice some aspects of our environment and overlook others, we identify some circumstances as threatening and others as benign, and we elect to take action in some situations but not in others. Our perceptions are not always accurate and our methods of coping are not always effective. As a result, we may ignore probable sources of harm and overrate improbable sources. Furthermore, we may respond to delayed and unpredictable harmful outcomes by becoming sick or anxious. Because environmental factors so profoundly influence our health and well-being, clinicians will benefit from an understanding of the concepts that environmental risk perception and coping studies reveal.
Although much of risk perception and coping research focuses on safety and health risks that originate in the physical environment, there are political, social, and economic risks that pose significant threats to well-