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Who Reaps the Benefits, Who Bears the Risks? Comparative Optimism, Comparative Utility, and Regulatory Preferences for Mobile Phone Technology


*Address correspondence to Mathew P. White, School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK;


Although the issue of risk target (e.g., self, others, children) is widely acknowledged in risk perception research, its importance appears underappreciated. To date, most research has been satisfied with demonstrating comparative optimism, i.e., lower perceived risk for the self than others, and exploring its moderators, such as perceived controllability and personal exposure. Much less research has investigated how the issue of target may affect benefit perceptions or key outcomes such as stated preferences for hazard regulation. The current research investigated these issues using data from a public survey of attitudes toward mobile phone technology (N= 1,320). First, results demonstrated comparative optimism for this hazard, and also found moderating effects of both controllability and personal exposure. Second, there was evidence of comparative utility, i.e., users believed that the benefits from mobile phone technology are greater for the self than others. Third, and most important for policy, preferences for handset regulation were best predicted by perceptions of the risks to others but perceived benefits for the self. Results suggest a closer awareness of target can improve prediction of stated preferences for hazard regulation and that it would be profitable for future research to pay more attention to the issue of target for both risk and benefit perceptions.

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