SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • biases;
  • heuristics;
  • evolution;
  • interindividual variability;
  • neuroscience;
  • risk assessment;
  • risk perception;
  • uncertainty

The recent literature providing insights from neuroscience and evolutionary biology into how individuals perceive risky choice situations represents a “second wave” of findings that recapitulates as well as challenges the risk perception research begun in the 1980s, which relied on psychometric survey research. Gleaning insights from the first wave of research that could improve the communication and control of environmental risks has yielded disappointing results. This is a result, in part, of the eagerness of scholars and pundits to posit a chasm between the “rational” and “objective” perceptions of experts, on the one hand, and a lay public that is seen as lurching between “paranoia and neglect” and as insensitive to the magnitude of risks. Interpretations of the psychometric research have suffered from inattention to uncertainty and interindividual variability in risk, to expert biases, and to important aspects of risky choice that were not explored in the first wave of research. Initial signs indicate that neuroscience and evolutionary biology research may fall prey to similar misinterpretations. This article summarizes some of the most intriguing findings of the “second wave” of risk perception research and advances four themes that may help make the new findings less divisive and more useful for improving risk communication and risk management. Continued research into risk perception should perhaps be embedded in a more general theory of public choice in the face of uncertain and variable costs and benefits and with a respect for distributive justice as an important goal in risk management.