Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Risk Perception: Social Exchange Can Amplify Subjective Fears

21.04.2015

“Pass the message” experiment investigates how people perceive and communicate the risks of a widely used chemical: The world is a risky place. But our subjective fears and anxieties are often at odds with the evidence. New findings by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Constance show that subjective fears about potential risks may be amplified in social exchange. Their findings have now been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS).

In our information society, information about risks such as Ebola and measles can spread like wildfire – be it through traditional and social media or through direct person-to-person contact. In many cases, social exchanges detailing risks are not objective and unemotional, but carry subjective perceptions of risk. What happens when these messages are transmitted from one person to another? How is this information communicated and what influence does it have on other people’s assessment of potentially risky situations?

To answer these questions, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University of Constance studied 10-person communication chains in the laboratory. In an experiment based on a “pass the message” game, they examined how risk information is transmitted from one person to the next, and how this process influences risk perception.

The results show not only that information is often gradually lost or distorted, but that new information can be spontaneously created. “The participants’ messages became shorter, less accurate, and increasingly dissimilar,“ says Mehdi Moussaïd, lead author of the study and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

In the laboratory experiment, the first participant in a communication chain read a collection of six media articles on the benefits and harms of triclosan, an antibacterial agent contained in many everyday products, such as toothpaste and cosmetics. The articles presented alternative views, from objective scientific evaluations of the potential risk to very personal opinions.

The first participant was then asked to communicate this information to a second participant, who in turn communicated it to a third participant, and so on. Finally, all participants completed questionnaires assessing their perception of the risks surrounding triclosan.

The authors of the study found that participants’ preconceptions affected the information transmitted, and in turn influenced the perceptions of those receiving the information. The subjective view of the communicator was thus amplified.

“People tend to single out the information that fits their preconceptions, and communicates primarily that information to the next person,“ says Henry Brighton, co-author of the study and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

This can lead to preconceptions being reinforced, so that the original message eventually has a negligible impact on the receiver’s judgments, and leads to an increasingly alarmist perception of potential risks.

The results of this study provide insights into the public response to risk and the formation of often unnecessary fears and anxieties. The researchers emphasize the socio-political importance of the realistic assessment of potential dangers. To combat the social amplification of risk, they call for the open, transparent communication of scientific evidence. “Without scaremongering, but also without giving people a false sense of security or an illusion of certainty,“ says co-author Wolfgang Gaissmaier, Professor of Social Psychology and Decision Sciences at the University of Constance.

Original Publication
Moussaïd, M., Brighton, H., & Gaissmaier, W. (2015). The amplification of risk in experimental diffusion chains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1421883112

Max Planck Institute for Human Development
The Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin was founded in 1963. It is an interdisciplinary research institution dedicated to the study of human development and education. The Institute belongs to the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, one of the leading organizations for basic research in Europe.

Weitere Informationen:

https://www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/en/media/2015/04/risk-perception-social-exchange-...

Kerstin Skork | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>