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Does Communicating (Flood) Risk Affect (Flood) Risk Perceptions? Results of a Quasi-Experimental Study


*Address correspondence to Teun Terpstra, University of Twente, PCHR, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands; tel: 0031-651072570; fax: 0031-534894259;


People's risk perceptions are generally regarded as an important determinant of their decisions to adjust to natural hazards. However, few studies have evaluated how risk communication programs affect these risk perceptions. This study evaluates the effects of a small-scale flood risk communication program in the Netherlands, consisting of workshops and focus group discussions. The effects on the workshop participants’ (n = 24) and focus group participants’ (n = 16) flood risk perceptions were evaluated in a pretest-posttest control group (n = 40) design that focused on two mechanisms of attitude change—direct personal experience and attitude polarization. We expected that (H1) workshop participants would show greater shifts in their flood risk perceptions compared with control group participants and that (H2) focus groups would rather produce the conditions for attitude polarization (shifts toward more extreme attitudinal positions after group discussion). However, the results provide only modest support for these hypotheses, perhaps because of a mismatch between the sessions’ contents and the risk perception measures. An important contribution of this study is that it examined risk perception data by both conventional tests of the mean differences and tests for attitude polarization. Moreover, the possibility that attitude polarization could cause people to confirm their preexisting (hazard) beliefs could have important implications for risk communication.