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Risk perception of mobile communication: a mental models approach

Marie-Eve Cousin and Michael Siegrist

Journal of Risk Research, 2010, vol. 13, issue 5, 599-620

Abstract: Some lay people confronted with a new base station project fear serious health consequences from the high-frequency radiation, while experts consider exposure under the current international standards as unproblematic. These conflictive estimations may be attributed to the different mental models of lay people and experts. Less is known about lay people's knowledge in regard to mobile communication and their intuitive understanding of the associated health risks. An adaptation of the 'Mental Models Approach' was used to reveal lay people's beliefs about mobile communication and to learn more about lay people's information requirements, potential knowledge gaps, and misconceptions. Through the means of open interviews with Swiss experts ( N = 16), lay people ( N = 16), and base station opponents ( N = 15), different mental models were constructed and evaluated. Comparisons between the expert and the lay groups showed several qualitative differences in all identified knowledge domains. Knowledge gaps in regard to changing exposure magnitudes due to the interaction patterns of cell phones and base stations as well as misconceptions about regulation issues and scientific processes were found in both lay groups. In addition, lack of trust in responsible actors and disaffection with base station location processes were mentioned. The reported qualitative insights may be useful for the improvement of further risk communication tools.

Date: 2010
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