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Risk perception in China and Australia: an exploratory crosscultural study

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Perceptions and subjective evaluations of risky activities and environmental conditions were explored in several 'Western' and 'Eastern' countries, based on a socio-psychological approach. The aim of these crosscultural studies is to analyse the cognitive structure of judgments about the magnitude and acceptability of risks to which individuals are exposed: to compare risk judgments across countries of different cultural background in which risk issues in general as well as particular risk sources (e.g., industrial facilities or natural hazards) have distinct salience, and to examine disparities between societal groups which differ in their professional background. In the current project, fully comparable data were collected in China (N = 270) and Australia (N = 203), utilizing psychometric instruments. The sampling in both countries focused on 3 groups of students (i.e., geography, psychology, engineering) and a group of scientists/researchers. Participants were asked for judgments on 25 hazards (based on a taxonomy) according to 12 risk aspects (derived from a structural risk perception model). Data comparisons for countries, for societal groups and for types of risks yield a complex picture. Crosscultural disparities are evident in two ways: there is considerable crossnational variation in risk perception, and groups affiliated with particular professional orientations differ in their judgment and evaluation of hazards as well. A major disparity between the two country data is that the Chinese respondents seem to be less prepared than the Australian ones to accept risks in principal (while there is no difference in the mean of risk magnitude ratings). Regarding specific hazards, the largest differences emerge forhazards related to politically ormorally 'banned' activities, such as gambling, using hallucinogenic drugs or unsafe sex. With respect to the 'cognitive structure' underlying risk evaluations, the main influences are similar for the compared samples. Altogetherthe results demonstrate the strong influence of socio-psychological variables and the cultural context on risk evaluations. However, the empirical basis for the findings gained so far is still small and generalizability restricted. A wider range of cultures needs to be looked at in order to clarify further the influence of cultural factors on the cognition and evaluation of risks. Such research is under way.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-07-01

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