Study shows how society perceives risk


ANI – Many of our daily activities carry some level of risk, whether it is to our work, our finances or our health. But how is risk perceived in society and how do individuals think about risk? Dr Dirk Wulff and Professor Rui Mata, researchers at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Basel, say: “The phenomenon of risk arouses great scientific interest. “But disciplines like psychology, sociology and economics define it in different ways,” says Dirk Wulff.

According to Wulff, little attention has been paid so far to the fact that the meaning of risk can differ from individual to individual depending on goals and life experience. He believes that it is important to understand how different people perceive risk in order, for example, to assess attitudes towards new technologies or societal challenges.

To study this, the researchers developed a new method based on word associations and an algorithmic process that maps the representation of risk for different groups and individuals. The researchers took a new approach, using a snowball word association method. Participants were asked to name five things they associated with the term risk, and then, in turn, five things they associated with those associations. Using this method, the researchers interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,205 people, with equal representation of men and women and different age groups.

An algorithm was used to generate a semantic risk network from the 36,100 associations. He identified the following components: threat, fortune, investment, activity and analysis. The semantic cluster “threat” (danger, accident, loss, etc.) was the component most closely associated with risk, followed closely by “fortune” (profit, game, adventure). “So far, studies have focused primarily on the negative components of risk and ignored the fact that it can also have positive associations,” Wulff comments.

The method is designed to map individual and group-specific differences in risk perception. Psychologists have studied the differences between men and women and between different age groups. Overall, women and men and people of different ages seemed to share similar ideas about risk. Nevertheless, there were some differences: a higher proportion of older than younger people and a higher proportion of women than men associated risk more closely with threat and less with wealth.

The researchers also asked the question: do people from different linguistic regions think about risk in the same way? To study this, they compared the semantic network of risk that emerged from the German survey group with those that resulted in two other languages ​​– Dutch and English. There were some small differences in the frequency of associations. For example, in Dutch the term risk tends to be associated more closely with threat and in English more with wealth and finance. Overall, however, the results indicate that there are universal correlations in risk representation that transcend linguistic boundaries.

“Our study lays a new foundation for examining the question of how people perceive risk,” says Wulff. “This could play an important role in helping to better understand how different social groups interpret risk, allowing for improved risk communication strategies to counter social polarization.”


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