Action tendencies and characteristics of environmental risks

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


It is assumed that the mental representation of the causal structure of environmental risks, i.e., the type of cause and the type of potential consequence, determines which sort of action tendencies are formed. We propose a model of risk evaluation that includes consequentialist and deontological judgments as well as specific emotions as mediators of action tendencies. Four hundred participants took part in an experiment which presented scenario information about environmental risks. The scenarios differed with respect to (a) causation (human vs. natural cause; single vs. aggregate causation), (b) consequence (harm to self vs. harm to other people vs. harm to nature), and (c) geographical distance (proximate vs. distant). Participants indicated how much they preferred each of 31 prospective behaviors. Factor analyses yielded five types of action tendencies: help, aggression, escape, political action, and self-focus. The causal structure of the risks was systematically related to action tendencies, e.g., environmental risks that are caused by humans, and in particular those caused by a single human agent, elicit aggressive action tendencies. The findings confirm that the perceived causal structure of a specific risk determines whether the focus is upon consequentialist or deontological judgments, which, in turn, elicit specific types of action tendency, mediated by emotions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Psychologica
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)317-337
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 01.06.2000
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Business psychology
  • Emotional responses, Environmental psychology, Risk perception