Perception of Risk and the Attribution of Responsibility for Accidents


  • Laura N. Rickard

    Corresponding author
    • Department of Environmental Studies, State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry (SUNY-ESF), 108B Marshall Hall, 1 Forestry Drive, Syracuse, NY, 13210, USA;

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Accidents, one often hears, “happen”; we accept, and even expect, that they will be part of daily life. But in situations in which injury or death result, judgments of responsibility become critical. How might our perceptions of risk influence the ways in which we allocate responsibility for an accident? Drawing from attribution and risk perception theory, this study investigates how perceived controllability and desirability of risk, in addition to perceived danger and recreational risk-taking, relate to attributions of responsibility for the cause of unintentional injury in a unique setting: U.S. national parks. Three parks, Mount Rainier, Olympic, and Delaware Water Gap, provide the setting for this survey-based study, which considers how park visitors (N = 447) attribute responsibility for the cause of a hypothetical visitor accident. Results suggest that respondents tended to make more internal (i.e., related to characteristics of the victim), rather than external (i.e., related to characteristics of the park, or park management) attributions. As respondents viewed park-related risk as controllable, they were more likely to attribute the cause of the accident to the victim. Moreover, among other significant variables, having experienced a similar accident predicted lower internal causal attribution. Opportunities for future research linking risk perception and attribution variables, as well as practical implications for the management of public outdoor settings, are presented.