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Concept: Risk perception

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Understanding how people form and revise their perception of risk is central to designing efficient risk communication methods, eliciting risk awareness, and avoiding unnecessary anxiety among the public. However, public responses to hazardous events such as climate change, contagious outbreaks, and terrorist threats are complex and difficult-to-anticipate phenomena. Although many psychological factors influencing risk perception have been identified in the past, it remains unclear how perceptions of risk change when propagated from one person to another and what impact the repeated social transmission of perceived risk has at the population scale. Here, we study the social dynamics of risk perception by analyzing how messages detailing the benefits and harms of a controversial antibacterial agent undergo change when passed from one person to the next in 10-subject experimental diffusion chains. Our analyses show that when messages are propagated through the diffusion chains, they tend to become shorter, gradually inaccurate, and increasingly dissimilar between chains. In contrast, the perception of risk is propagated with higher fidelity due to participants manipulating messages to fit their preconceptions, thereby influencing the judgments of subsequent participants. Computer simulations implementing this simple influence mechanism show that small judgment biases tend to become more extreme, even when the injected message contradicts preconceived risk judgments. Our results provide quantitative insights into the social amplification of risk perception, and can help policy makers better anticipate and manage the public response to emerging threats.

Concepts: Psychology, Understanding, Risk, Perception, Mind, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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Summary It is evident that sexual activity tends to decrease with age. Nonetheless, it is still prevalent enough to be considered a risk factor for the spread of HIV among older people. This paper uses quantitative data for 2053 individuals to examine HIV risk perception and correlates of perceived risk among older people aged 50 years and older living in Nairobi slums. It emerged that a majority of older people did not consider themselves at risk of infection. Of those who felt at risk, a greater proportion sensed only a small chance of contracting HIV. Women cited ‘no sexual activity’ while men mentioned ‘having only one and/or a faithful sexual partner’ as the primary reasons for perceiving minimal risk of HIV infection. There were no differences by sex in the basis for perceiving moderate-to-great risk of infection. Religion is a key factor in risk perception with Muslims perceiving higher levels of risk and, conversely, devotees irrespective of faith perceiving lower levels of risk. Older people willing to be tested for HIV had a decreased likelihood of perceived risk compared with those unwilling to be tested. This paper recommends evaluation of older people’s perception of risk in order to better inform interventions aimed at minimizing their vulnerability to HIV infection.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Risk, Perception, Sense, Human sexual behavior, Illusion, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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Abstract Objective: Leisure activities that emit high noise levels have the potential to expose participants to excessive noise exposure, which can result in hearing damage. This study investigated young people’s participation in high-noise leisure activities and the relationship between their leisure noise exposure, symptoms of hearing damage, and perception of risk. Design: Participants completed an online survey relating to participation in selected high-noise leisure activities, symptoms of hearing damage, and beliefs about the risk posed by these activities. Study sample: One thousand 18- to 35-year-old Australian adults completed the survey. Results: Annual noise exposure from the five leisure activities ranged from 0-6.77 times the acceptable noise exposure, with nightclubs posing the greatest risk. Those who attended one noisy activity were more likely to attend others, in particular nightclubs, pubs, and live music events. Noise exposure was correlated with early warning signs of hearing damage and perceived risk of damage. Conclusions: Active young adults who engage in noisy activities are showing early signs of hearing damage. Furthermore, they perceive the risk associated with their activities. The challenge for researchers and hearing health practitioners is to convert self-perceived risk into positive hearing health behaviours for long-term hearing health.

Concepts: Psychology, Risk, Perception, Sense, Mind, Philosophy of perception, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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Perceived risk of environmental threats often translates into psychological stress with a wide range of effects on health and well-being. Petrochemical industrial complexes constitute one of the sites that can cause considerable pollution and health problems. The uncertainty around emissions results in a perception of risk for citizens residing in neighboring areas, which translates into anxiety and physiological stress. In this context, social trust is a key factor in managing the perceived risk. In the case of industrial risks, it is essential to distinguish between trust in the companies that make up the industry, and trust in public institutions. In the context of a petrochemical industrial complex located in the port of Castellón (Spain), this paper primarily discusses how trust - both in the companies located in the petrochemical complex and in the public institutions - affects citizens' health risk perception. The research findings confirm that while the trust in companies negatively affects citizens' health risk perception, trust in public institutions does not exert a direct and significant effect. Analysis also revealed that trust in public institutions and health risk perception are essentially linked indirectly (through trust in companies).

Concepts: Anxiety, Psychology, Risk, Sociology, Occupational health psychology, Stress, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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This study assessed the risk perception ratings of travelers pre- and post-travel and in comparison to the ratings by travel health experts. While most surveys on travel health knowledge, attitudes, and practices focus on malaria and vaccine-preventable diseases, noninfectious travel risks were included in this study.

Concepts: Risk, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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The present exploratory study examined the role of acculturation in the perception of the risks of smoking following a smoking cessation induction intervention among Latino caregivers of children with asthma. The sample consisted of 131 Latino smokers (72.9 % female; 18.3 % born in the U.S.) who were caregivers of a child with asthma. Caregivers were randomized to one of two smoking cessation interventions that were part of a home-based asthma program. Self-report measures of risk-perception were assessed at baseline, end of treatment (2 months after baseline), and 2- and 3-months post-treatment. At baseline, caregivers, regardless of level of acculturation, reported moderate to high levels of concern about the effects of secondhand smoke on their child’s health as well as perceived risk regarding the effect of smoking on their own health. However, caregivers who were low in acculturation had a greater increase in concern about the effects of smoking on their child from pre-to post treatment compared to those who were high in acculturation (p = .001). Lastly, level of acculturation moderated the association between caregivers' concern about smoking on their child’s health and their motivation to quit smoking (p < .05), but not cessation rates or reduced secondhand smoke exposure (p > .05). Specifically, motivation to quit at 3 months was greater for those with low acculturation. Though exploratory, these findings suggest that risk perception may be more easily influenced in low versus high acculturated populations and this should be considered in the design of clinical interventions and potentially mass media campaigns seeking to influence risk of caregiver behavior on child health with ethnic and racial minorities.

Concepts: Risk, United States, Smoking, Passive smoking, Nicotine, Smoking cessation, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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Adolescents are particularly susceptible to social influence. Here, we investigated the effect of social influence on risk perception in 590 participants aged eight to fifty-nine-years tested in the United Kingdom. Participants rated the riskiness of everyday situations, were then informed about the rating of these situations from a (fictitious) social-influence group consisting of teenagers or adults, and then re-evaluated the situation. Our first aim was to attempt to replicate our previous finding that young adolescents are influenced more by teenagers than by adults. Second, we investigated the social-influence effect when the social-influence group’s rating was more, or less, risky than the participants' own risk rating. Younger participants were more strongly influenced by teenagers than by adults, but only when teenagers rated a situation as more risky than did participants. This suggests that stereotypical characteristics of the social-influence group - risk-prone teenagers - interact with social influence on risk perception.

Concepts: Risk, Sociology, United Kingdom, Social psychology, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk

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The formation of collective opinion is a complex phenomenon that results from the combined effects of mass media exposure and social influence between individuals. The present work introduces a model of opinion formation specifically designed to address risk judgments, such as attitudes towards climate change, terrorist threats, or children vaccination. The model assumes that people collect risk information from the media environment and exchange them locally with other individuals. Even though individuals are initially exposed to the same sample of information, the model predicts the emergence of opinion polarization and clustering. In particular, numerical simulations highlight two crucial factors that determine the collective outcome: the propensity of individuals to search for independent information, and the strength of social influence. This work provides a quantitative framework to anticipate and manage how the public responds to a given risk, and could help understanding the systemic amplification of fears and worries, or the underestimation of real dangers.

Concepts: Risk, Sociology, Climate change, Media, Music, Mass media, News media, Risk perception

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To determine how surgeons' perceptions of treatment risks and benefits influence their decisions to operate.

Concepts: Decision making, Risk, Decision theory, Uncertainty, Employee benefit, Risk perception

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Objective: Information about risks is often contradictory, especially in the health domain. A vast amount of bizarre information on vaccine-adverse events (VAE) can be found on the Internet; most are posted by antivaccination activists. Several actors in the health sector struggle against these statements by negating claimed risks with scientific explanations. The goal of the present work is to find optimal ways of negating risk to decrease risk perceptions. Methods: In two online experiments, we varied the extremity of risk negations and their source. Perception of the probability of VAE, their expected severity (both variables serve as indicators of perceived risk), and vaccination intentions. Results: Paradoxically, messages strongly indicating that there is “no risk” led to a higher perceived vaccination risk than weak negations. This finding extends previous work on the negativity bias, which has shown that information stating the presence of risk decreases risk perceptions, while information negating the existence of risk increases such perceptions. Several moderators were also tested; however, the effect occurred independently of the number of negations, recipient involvement, and attitude. Solely the credibility of the information source interacted with the extremity of risk negation: For credible sources (governmental institutions), strong and weak risk negations lead to similar perceived risk, while for less credible sources (pharmaceutical industries) weak negations lead to less perceived risk than strong negations. Conclusions: Optimal risk negation may profit from moderate rather than extreme formulations as a source’s trustworthiness can vary. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Risk, Perception, Philosophy of perception, Source criticism, Risk perception