Human and Nature-Caused Hazards: The Affect Heuristic Causes Biased Decisions

Authors

  • Michael Siegrist,

    Corresponding author
    1. ETH Zurich, Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), Consumer Behavior, Universitätsstrasse 22, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
    • Address correspondence to Michael Siegrist, ETH Zurich, Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), Consumer Behavior, Universitätsstrasse 22, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland; msiegrist@ethz.ch.

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  • Bernadette Sütterlin

    1. ETH Zurich, Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), Consumer Behavior, Universitätsstrasse 22, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
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Abstract

People are more concerned about the negative consequences of human hazards compared with natural hazards. Results of four experiments show that the same negative outcome (e.g., number of birds killed by an oil spill) was more negatively evaluated when caused by humans than when caused by nature. Results further show that when identical risk information was provided, participants evaluated nuclear power more negatively compared with solar power. The affect associated with the hazard per se influenced the interpretation of the new information. Furthermore, the affect experienced in the situation fully mediated the evaluation of the negative outcomes of a hazard. People's reliance on the affect heuristic is a challenge for acceptance of cost-benefit analyses because equally negative outcomes are differently evaluated depending on the cause. Symbolically significant information and the affect evoked by this information may result in biased and riskier decisions.

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