Dispute and morality in the perception of societal risks: extending the psychometric model

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The psychometric paradigm has identified two classic dimensions, dread and unknown risk, structuring the perception of risks. We propose that disputed risk and morality are two additional dimensions that are relevant to describe the cognitive representation of societal risks. Disputed risk captures two aspects of a societal risk: first, that consensus about scientific evidence is low, and second, that the public debate about the risk issue is highly controversial. Morality refers to judgments of reprehensibility, capturing the fact that societal risks frequently involve violations of moral principles. In a survey study employing two samples, a household sample (N = 418) and a student sample (N = 88), participants evaluated 24 societal risks on 23 psychometric scales intended to assess the four constructs dread, unknown risk, disputed risk, and morality. Principal component analyses yielded three dimensions: a common dimension of dread and morality, a disputed risk dimension, and unknown risk. We also assessed judgments of overall riskiness for all risks. Morality and dread both proved to be strong and distinctive predictors of perceived overall riskiness in regression analyses; disputed risk and unknown risk, in contrast, do not play a substantial role as predictors. These findings were replicated across both samples. We conclude that disputed risk constitutes a novel and unique psychometric dimension; morality, on the other hand, coincides with dread in the cognitive representation of societal risks, while still showing a distinct and strong effect in the prediction of risk judgments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)299-325
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 04.03.2017

    Research areas

  • Business psychology - risk perception, psychometric paradigm, morality, disputed risk, societal risks