Social psychological models that describe how people perceive and react to hazards are presented. A risk representation is a product of a process in which a hazard is recognized, its characteristics identified, and the probability of its negative impacts occurring are estimated. This will often include developing an explanation for how the hazard has come into being. The ‘psychometric paradigm’ as a method for examining the perceived characteristics of hazards is summarized before proceeding to outline the ‘mental models’ approach for analyzing risk representations. The role of affect (‘the affect heuristic’, anticipated regret, fear, and anger) in risk representations is explored. Evidence of the impact of individual differences (in particular, in vulnerability and self-efficacy) upon risk reactions is analyzed. The Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF) is used to introduce the significance of social influence processes in shaping the risk representations. SARF does not specify the processes that determine substance, form, or acceptance of risk representations. The work on the effect of hazard sequences, hazard templates, and hazard negotiation on amplification processes partially rectifies this. However, there are two other theoretical approaches that have been used in this area are summarized: Social Representations Theory and Identity Processes Theory.

Examples of research on climate change risk representations using these models of risk construction are presented. WIREs Clim Change 2010 1 857–870 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.74

For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website