The Unintended Effects of Risk-Refuting Information on Anxiety


Kazuya Nakayachi, Faculty of Psychology, Doshisha University, Kyotanabe, Kyoto 610-0394, Japan; fax: +81 774 658217;


Researchers in the field of risk perception have been asking why people are more worried about risk today than in years past. This article explores one possible answer to this question, associative anxiety. The affect heuristic and the mental network models suggest that anxiety triggered by information regarding a particular risk can spread to other risks of the same category. Research to date, however, has not examined how information refuting the particular risk can also be generalized across other risks. The article presents two experimental studies addressing this issue. Study 1 showed that when participants were presented with information based on a real train collision, they experienced increased anxiety not only about train collisions but also about public transportation in general. In contrast, those who were informed about the train collision case as well as the preventative measures implemented after the accident experienced decreased anxiety about train collisions but not about public transportation more generally. Study 2 measured the changes in participant anxiety about a genetically modified organism (GMO) and compared the influence of information about either the existence or nonexistence of its risk. Similar to Study 1, associative anxiety rippled through the risk category. The results also suggest that the follow-up information refuting the GMO risk reduced the anxiety toward the hazard drastically, but did not fully alleviate the anxiety toward other hazards in the category. The implications and the limitations of these studies are also discussed.