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When Precaution Creates Misunderstandings: The Unintended Effects of Precautionary Information on Perceived Risks, the EMF Case


Address correspondence to Peter Wiedemann, WF-EMF, ITAS, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Anna Louisa Karsch Str. 2, 10178 Berlin, Germany;


In the past decade, growing public concern about novel technologies with uncertain potential long-term impacts on the environment and human health has moved risk policies toward a more precautionary approach. Focusing on mobile telephony, the effects of precautionary information on risk perception were analyzed. A pooled multinational experimental study based on a 5 × 2 × 2 factorial design was conducted in nine countries. The first factor refers to whether or not information on different types of precautionary measures was present, the second factor to the framing of the precautionary information, and the third factor to the order in which cell phones and base stations were rated by the study participants. The data analysis on the country level indicates different effects. The main hypothesis that informing about precautionary measures results in increased risk perceptions found only partial support in the data. The effects are weaker, both in terms of the effect size and the frequency of significant effects, across the various precautionary information formats used in the experiment. Nevertheless, our findings do not support the assumption that informing people about implemented precautionary measures will decrease public concerns.