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Polarization in the Reaction to Health-Risk Information: A Question of Social Position?

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Dissemination of risk information is ubiquitous in contemporary society. We explore how individuals react in everyday life to health-risk information, based on what they report in personal interviews. Health-risk information was without exception recognized as unstable and inconsistent. This conformity, however, did not extend to the narratives regarding how health-risk information should be handled. Two opposite positions (ideal-typical strategies) are presented. Either you tend to process and evaluate new information or you tend to ignore it as a whole. Our attempt to reveal the underlying rationality in these two very different approaches involved the exploration of three different avenues of interpretation and brings together two scientific paradigms—economics and sociology—that provide the framework for our analysis. First, we suggest that a greater long-term experience of explicit choice implies that this kind of action becomes more natural and less resource consuming, whereas a reliance on habits in daily life—a natural adjustment to a lack of resources—makes it is more costly to bother about new information. Second, with fewer resources in the short run, fewer opportunities to mitigate bad outcomes, and greater exposure to social and material risks, one is less likely to devote resources to deal with health-risk information. Third, there are several possible links between a low propensity to take account of risk information and a high relative importance of genuine uncertainty in one's life. These theoretical perspectives provide a viable set of hypotheses regarding mechanisms that may contribute to social differences in the response to health-risk information.
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Keywords: Risk; health; information; social position; uncertainty

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2003

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