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Perception of technological risk: insights from research and lessons for risk communication and management

Ortwin Renn and Christina Benighaus

Journal of Risk Research, 2013, vol. 16, issue 3-4, 293-313

Abstract: Technology has become a familiar companion in all areas of life. Production consumption, administration, education, communication, and leisure activities are all shaped by the use of technologies. However, people often associate with the term 'technology' attributes, such as catastrophic and potentially dangerous, and tend to take the benefits of technological products for granted. This asymmetry in risk--benefit perception is one of the main reasons why many consumers are concerned about 'hidden' risks of technologies and why they demand stringent regulatory actions when they feel unduly exposed to potential emissions or waste products associated with the lifecycle of technologies. This situation is often aggravated by social amplification processes, by which even small risks receive high media attention and are blown out of proportion in the public arena. At the same time, however, one needs to acknowledge that many technologies have the potential to harm the human health and the environment. The purpose of this article is to review our knowledge about risk perception with respect to technologies, in particular emerging technologies, and to suggest possible strategies to use this knowledge for improving our risk management practice. Technological risk perception is defined in this article as the processing of physical signals and/or information about a potentially harmful impact of using technology and the formation of a judgment about seriousness, likelihood, and acceptability of the respective technology. Based on the review of psychological, social, and cultural factors that shape individual and social risk perceptions, we have attempted to develop a structured framework that provides an integrative and systematic perspective on technological risk perception and that may assist risk management and regulation in taking perceptions into account.

Date: 2013
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