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The Risk Perception Paradox—Implications for Governance and Communication of Natural Hazards

Authors


Address correspondence to Ortwin Renn; ortwin.renn@sowi.uni-stuttgart.de.

Abstract

This article reviews the main insights from selected literature on risk perception, particularly in connection with natural hazards. It includes numerous case studies on perception and social behavior dealing with floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, wild fires, and landslides. The review reveals that personal experience of a natural hazard and trust—or lack of trust—in authorities and experts have the most substantial impact on risk perception. Cultural and individual factors such as media coverage, age, gender, education, income, social status, and others do not play such an important role but act as mediators or amplifiers of the main causal connections between experience, trust, perception, and preparedness to take protective actions. When analyzing the factors of experience and trust on risk perception and on the likeliness of individuals to take preparedness action, the review found that a risk perception paradox exists in that it is assumed that high risk perception will lead to personal preparedness and, in the next step, to risk mitigation behavior. However, this is not necessarily true. In fact, the opposite can occur if individuals with high risk perception still choose not to personally prepare themselves in the face of a natural hazard. Therefore, based on the results of the review, this article offers three explanations suggesting why this paradox might occur. These findings have implications for future risk governance and communication as well as for the willingness of individuals to invest in risk preparedness or risk mitigation actions.

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