Agency Communication, Community Outrage, and Perception of Risk: Three Simulation Experiments


  • 6See Miller(1), for example.

5 To whom all correspondence should be addressed.


Three experimental studies were conducted employing hypothetical news stories to compare the effects on reader risk perceptions of two situations: when agency communication behavior was reported to be responsive to citizens’ risk concerns, vs. when the agency was reported to be unresponsive. In the first two experiments, news stories of public meetings filled with distrust and controversy led to ratings indicating greater perceived risk than news stories reporting no distrust or controversy, even though the risk information was held constant. This effect appeared clearly when the differences in meeting tone were extreme and subjects made their ratings from their recall of the stories, but it was much weaker when the differences were moderate and subjects were allowed to go back over the news stories to help separate risk information from conflict information. In the third experiment, news stories about a spill cleanup systematically varied the seriousness of the spill, the amount of technical information provided in the story, and the agency behavior and resulting community outrage. The outrage manipulation significantly affected affective and cognitive components of perceived risk, but not hypothetical behavioral intentions. Seriousness and technical detail had very little effect on perceived risk.