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 Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Oxygen loss in the coastal Baltic Sea is “unprecedentedly severe”
05.07.2018 | European Geosciences Union

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts

18.07.2018 | Life Sciences

Machine-learning predicted a superhard and high-energy-density tungsten nitride

18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Why might reading make myopic?

18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>