Perception of Mobile Phone and Base Station Risks


*Address correspondence to Michael Siegrist, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Human-Environment Interaction, ETH Centre HAD, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland;


Perceptions of risks associated with mobile phones, base stations, and other sources of electromagnetic fields (EMF) were examined. Data from a telephone survey conducted in the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland are presented (N= 1,015). Participants assessed both risks and benefits associated with nine different sources of EMF. Trust in the authorities regulating these hazards was assessed as well. In addition, participants answered a set of questions related to attitudes toward EMF and toward mobile phone base stations. According to respondents' assessments, high-voltage transmission lines are the most risky source of EMF. Mobile phones and mobile phone base stations received lower risk ratings. Results showed that trust in authorities was positively associated with perceived benefits and negatively associated with perceived risks. People who use their mobile phones frequently perceived lower risks and higher benefits than people who use their mobile phones infrequently. People who believed they lived close to a base station did not significantly differ in their level of risks associated with mobile phone base stations from people who did not believe they lived close to a base station. Regarding risk regulation, a majority of participants were in favor of fixing limiting values based on the worst-case scenario. Correlations suggest that belief in paranormal phenomena is related to level of perceived risks associated with EMF. Furthermore, people who believed that most chemical substances cause cancer also worried more about EMF than people who did not believe that chemical substances are that harmful. Practical implications of the results are discussed.