Attitudes, Values & Perceptions

Risk Perception

A considerable amount of research has examined perceptions of environmental threats. In general, individuals have been shown to be inaccurate at assessing risks, inflating the probabilities of some events and underestimating the others (Clayton & Myers, 2009). In light of the event of underestimating environmental issues, the slow increase in average global temperature from global warming is not visible unlike an oil spill. According to the American Psychological Association (2009), climate change is difficult to detect individually and hence, individuals often do not pay much attention to such an issue. Furthermore, research has shown that the scientists are more concerned about the possibly severe effects of global warming on human populations, ecosystems, infrastructures than average citizens and government officials (APA, 2009). Indeed, this is alarming as the individual household would not take much notice and continue engaging in ‘non-environmental practices’. Even worse, the government would not pass regulations or policies to limit the emission of such gases contributing to Global Warming.

Clayton & Myers (2009) also posit that people are more likely to be aware of threats that are immediate and/or personally relevant. For instance in the context of global warming, individuals who live near the Arctic region would experience a shift in seasonal patterns and experience the melting of glaciers. Individuals outside of this region (e.g. South East Asia) would not directly experience anything and hence, their perception of risk pertaining to this issue is fairly low. Furthermore, individuals are said to discount risks whose negative effects will be felt in the distant future (Frederick, Loewenstein, & O’ Donoghue, 2002). In other words, the effects of climate change can only be substantially felt in the new future as minute temperature changes do not hold much physical affect in the short-term. Nevertheless, the salience of risks is also influenced by the sensory vividness with which they are perceived. As mentioned above, individuals discount risks when negative effects are felt in the distant future (Frederick et al., 2002).

However, the individual will experience an increase in risk perception when he/she is presented with vivid imagery of environmental damage. A study by researchers had revealed that providing affect-laden photos of damage from a flood increased the perceived risk of flooding (Keller & Siegrist, & Gutscher, 2006). Likewise, when Dutch adults were shown a video with frightening images of global warming, they showed more fear of climate change than those in the control group (Meijinders, Midden, & Wilke, 2001). In addition, those in the experimental group were more affected by the informational content in the video ; suggesting fear induction is a motivator to attend to the provided information. However, Winter & Koger (2004) cautions on the use of threatening or disturbing images because overwhelming arousal leads to emotional biases, which hinder the individual’s information processing.

In conclusion, this theory brings to our awareness that it is essential to include vivid images in educational campaigns for the fight against Global Warming. However, these ‘vivid images’ must not be too emotional-provoking otherwise it may lead to emotional biases, which will defeat the purpose of the educational campaign itself.



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