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The influence of linear and cyclical temporal representations on risk perception of nuclear waste: an experimental study

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Time is an important aspect of the issue of nuclear waste, both from a technical and from a perceptional perspective. Previous studies have investigated the relationship between time and risk perception of nuclear waste, applying the discounting paradigm and therefore limiting time to one very narrow aspect: its duration. However, time is a multifaceted concept and encompasses more than a linear property. The aim of our study is to test the influence of a different aspect of time, namely temporal representations (linear or cyclical) on risk perception of nuclear waste. In an experimental study we demonstrate that both linear and cyclical representations have a reducing effect on risk perception compared to the control condition, where no specific time representation was activated. Examining group differences, we also demonstrate that temporal representations have a differing influence depending on whether participants have a stable belief about nuclear waste or whether they belong to an ambivalent group that does not yet hold a stable belief. Furthermore, we replicate the well-documented gender gap in risk perception. Our results bear potentially interesting implications for risk communication by demonstrating a causal relationship between the graphic representation of time and risk perception of nuclear waste.

Keywords: linear and cyclical time; nuclear waste; risk perception; temporal representation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Environmental Decisions (IED), Natural and Social Science Interface (NSSI), ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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