Learning Lab Denmark - INCUBEus


Most people perceive risk as a multi-dimensional phenomenon and integrate their beliefs related to the nature of the risk, the cause of the risk, the associated benefits, and the circumstances of risk-taking into a consistent belief system. This seems to be a common characteristic in almost all countries in which studies of public risk perception have been performed.

The most prominent theory that takes this finding into account is the so-called 'psychometric method'. The psychometric method expands the realm of traditional risk analysis to include additional aspects of risks and benefits besides dollars and body counts.

In a way, it represents a personal perspective on risk; a cognitive psychological perspective that defines risk in a much richer, and more complex way than risk experts normally do. For instance, it incorporates contextual variables and value-laden considerations such as equity, controllability, undesirability, and catastrophic potential, and it applies a kind of 'rule of thumb' in drawing inferences about technologies and their dangers.

As the word 'psychometrics' suggests, measurement is still going on. The measuring includes all undesirable effects that people associate with a specific cause. Whether these cause-effect relationships reflect reality or not, is irrelevant.

For instance: Recent fears about mobile phones are equally important in assessing the risk whether there is any real danger or not. As long as there is a perceived fear or danger, it must be taken into account. But as it is the case for decision analysis and quantitative risk assessment, the psychometric method only looks at individual perceptions of risk and fails to consider collective actions and other social dynamics.

Further reading
Fischhoff, B., Slovic, P., Lichtenstein, S., Read, S., Combs, B. (1978). "How Safe is Safe Enough? A Psychometric Study of Attitudes Toward Technological Risks and Benefits.", Policy Sciences, 9:127-152.

Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., Lichtenstein, S. (1980). "Facts and Fears: Understanding Perceived Risk", pp. 181-216, in Societal Risk Assessment: How Safe is Safe Enough?, ed. Schwing, R. and Albers, W., Plenum Press, New York.

Slovic, P. (2000). The Perception of Risk, Earthscan Publications Ltd., London and Sterlin, Va.

Mazur, A. (1987). "Does Public Perception of Risk Explain the Social Responses to Potential Hazards?", Quarterly Journal of Ideology, 11:41-45.

Marris, C., Langford, I., Saunderson, T., O'Riordan, T. (1997). "Exploring the Psychometric Paradigm: Comparisons between aggregate and individual analysis.", Risk Analysis, 17:303-312.

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Nine Technologies

A. Air Transport
B. Buildings
C. Land Transport
D. Marine Transport
E. Bridges and Dams
F. Oil Tankers
G. Chemical Industry
H. Medical Industry
I. Nuclear Industry

Nine Theories

Quantitative Risk Assessment
Decision Analysis
Cost-benefit Analysis
Normal Accident Theory
High Reliability Organisations
Risk communication
Arena Theory
Cultural Theory

Five Categories

Hazard (0-1000)
Range (km2)
Fear Factor (0-10)
Media Effect (0-100)