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Risk communication of terrorist acts, natural disasters, and criminal violence: Comparing the processes of understanding and responding



Risk communication is an important vehicle for the scientific understanding of the perception of and response to various kinds of threats. The present study provides apparently the first empirical attempt to compare perceptions, decision-making, and anticipated action in response to threats of three kinds: natural disaster, violent crime, and terrorism. A total of 258 college undergraduates were surveyed using a vignette-based, 2 × 2 × 3 between-subjects design that systematically manipulated threat imminence (high vs. low), risk level (high vs. low), and nature of the threat (natural disaster vs. crime vs. terrorism). There were substantial differences in participants' perceptions and reported actions in response to natural disaster, relative to the other domains of risk, under conditions of high risk. The risk of natural disaster was more likely to lead participants to report that they would change their daily activities and to relocate. It was also more likely than terrorism to lead to action securing the home. It appears that the mechanisms for perception, decision-making, and action in response to threats cannot be generalized in a straightforward way across these domains of threat. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.