• Risk;
  • risk perception;
  • social amplification;
  • technological controversies;
  • public participation

One of the most perplexing problems in risk analysis is why some relatively minor risks or risk events, as assessed by technical experts, often elicit strong public concerns and result in substantial impacts upon society and economy. This article sets forth a conceptual framework that seeks to link systematically the technical assessment of risk with psychological, sociological, and cultural perspectives of risk perception and risk-related behavior. The main thesis is that hazards interact with psychological, social, institutional, and cultural processes in ways that may amplify or attenuate public responses to the risk or risk event. A structural description of the social amplification of risk is now possible. Amplification occurs at two stages: in the transfer of information about the risk, and in the response mechanisms of society. Signals about risk are processed by individual and social amplification stations, including the scientist who communicates the risk assessment, the news media, cultural groups, interpersonal networks, and others. Key steps of amplifications can be identified at each stage. The amplified risk leads to behavioral responses, which, in turn, result in secondary impacts. Models are presented that portray the elements and linkages in the proposed conceptual framework.