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Keywords:

  • perceived control;
  • anticipated regret;
  • risk perception;
  • voluntary risk-taking

Abstract

Perception of control has been a fundamental construct in research on risk-taking behavior. It has been shown, for example, that people tend to underestimate risks that are under their control. Despite its importance, surprisingly, little attention has been paid to what is actually meant by control. In three studies, we argue that the common conceptualization of perceived control is too broad as it fails to distinguish between two distinct aspects of control ‘command over exposure to the risk itself (volition)’ and ‘command over the outcome (control)’. Thus, whether the risk is imposed or freely chosen likely differs from, and has different consequences for, the ability to exert influence over a risky behavior, once it has been initiated. Using a wide variety of risk behaviors (e.g., ecstasy use, unsafe sex), we demonstrate that volition and control exert opposing influence on risk perception: control decreases perceived risk while volition increases perceived risk. This latter prediction is counterintuitive and is explained in terms of the mediating role of anticipated regret: voluntary appraisals elicit anticipated regret, which, in turn, increases perceived risk. This work highlights the dynamic relationship between risk characteristics and anticipated emotion in guiding the perception of risk. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.