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Interpersonal Amplification of Risk? Citizen Discussions and Their Impact on Perceptions of Risks and Benefits of a Biological Research Facility

Authors

  • Andrew R. Binder,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Communication, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA.
      Address correspondence to Andrew R. Binder, Department of Communication, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 8104, Raleigh, NC 27695-8104, USA; tel: 919-513-2430; fax: 919-515-9456; arbinder@ncsu.edu.
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  • Dietram A. Scheufele,

    1. Department of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
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  • Dominique Brossard,

    1. Department of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
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  • Albert C. Gunther

    1. Department of Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI, USA.
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Address correspondence to Andrew R. Binder, Department of Communication, North Carolina State University, Campus Box 8104, Raleigh, NC 27695-8104, USA; tel: 919-513-2430; fax: 919-515-9456; arbinder@ncsu.edu.

Abstract

Much risk communication research has demonstrated how mass media can influence individual risk perceptions, but lacks a comprehensive conceptual understanding of another key channel of communication: interpersonal discussion. Using the social amplification of risk as a theoretical framework, we consider the potential for discussions to function as amplification stations. We explore this possibility using data from a public opinion survey of residents living in potential locations for a new biological research facility in the United States. Controlling for a variety of key information variables, our results show that two dimensions of discussion—frequency and valence—have impacts on residents’ perceptions of the facility's benefits and its risks. We also explore the possibility that an individual's overall attitude moderates the effect of discussion on their perceptions of risks and benefits. Our results demonstrate the potential for discussions to operate as amplifiers or attenuators of perceptions of both risks and benefits.

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