Slovic Risk Assessment

In this article Slovic describes risk as subjective and is blended with science and judgement with psychological, cultural, social and political factors. This means that risk is defined based on health risks such as air pollution or hazardous risks such as sky-diving. According to the article, risk assessment is characterized as objective, analytical, wise and rational. Comparing real risks to perceptions of risk, it is easy to understand that society has created their own ideas of risky behavior or situations.

In terms of risk being subjective, Slovic explains that people use the term risk to help them make decisions based on whether they are dangerous or have uncertain outcomes. This means that people consider risk as something that they can’t control, whereas experts on risk believe that risk should be viewed in the scope of probability and consistent statistics on mortality or disaster. An example posed in the article is the risk of cancer compared to the risk of car accidents.

When talking about dimensions of risk, the author mentions the idea that Thompson and Dean have on the conception of risk by comparing it to the concept of a game with rules, limitations, opponents, winning and losing etc. However, the author explains that this is not true to all games, just as all games do not have universal rules, coming to the conclusion that there is no universal set of characteristics that describe risk, it depends on “the risk game being played.”

Slovic explains that risk is different in terms of judgement when it comes to sex, politics, and emotion. For sex, it can be risky just because of the amount of knowledge a man or woman has on sexual activity. The author did a study on how men and woman perceive risk when it comes to sex, finding that the educated, conservative and well-to-do white men involved in the study perceived low risk  when involved in sexual activity.

When looking at religious worldviews, it’s important to understand that different cultures view risk differently because of the difference in social, psychological and political factors that they are exposed to. For example, Slovic finds that there is a difference in hierarchists, individualists and Egalitarians because of how their society and values are organized.

Slovic poses that emotion is something that drives risk assessment as well. Based on the situation, emotion can drive decisions and create a certain feeling for different people and create a sense of uncertainty or danger. He goes on to show that this creates differences in perceptions of positive and negative feelings on external or internal stimuli.

When talking about trust, there is a different sense of trust based on gender, race, worldviews and affect. In terms of risk, there tends to be a higher chance of risk when there is a lack of trust when it comes to communication. Negative events that are described as trust-destroying are risks in terms of lies and errors. Positive events are described as trust-building are more fuzzy or indistinct and sometimes visible.

The author searches for ways to manage risk and turns to solutions for socially-constructed views of risk as well as educating people based on scientific literacy and public education to determine real risk.


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