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The Role of the Affect and Availability Heuristics in Risk Communication


*Address correspondence to Carmen Keller, Department of Psychology, Social Psychology, University of Zurich, Plattenstrasse 14, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland; tel.: +41 44 634 21 15; fax: +41 44 634 49 31;


Results of past research suggest that affect plays an important role in risk perception. Because affect may also increase the availability of risks, affect and availability are closely related concepts. Three studies tested the hypothesis that evoking negative affect (fear), either through past experience or through experimental manipulation, results in greater perceived risk. The present research focused on perception of flooding risk. Study 1 and Study 2 showed that participants who received risk information concerning a longer time period (e.g., 30 years) perceived more danger compared with participants who received risk information for one year. Study 2 showed that the interpretation of risk information was influenced by participants' own experiences with flooding. In Study 3, affect was experimentally manipulated. After looking at photographs depicting houses in a flooded region, participants perceived greater risk compared with participants in a control group. Taken together, the results of these three studies suggest that affect is important for successful risk communication. Results of the present research are in line with the affect heuristic proposed by Slovic and colleagues.