18 Factors of Risk Perception

In Dan Gard­ner­’s excel­lent Risk, he lists psy­cho­lo­gist Paul Slov­ic’s list of 18 factors that influ­ence how we judge the sever­ity of risk:

  1. Cata­stroph­ic Poten­tial If fatal­it­ies would occur in large num­bers in a single event – instead of in small num­bers dis­persed over time – our per­cep­tion of risk rises.
  2. Famili­ar­ity Unfa­mil­i­ar or nov­el risks make us worry more.
  3. Under­stand­ing If we believe that how an activ­ity or tech­no­logy works is not well under­stood, our sense of risk goes up.
  4. Per­son­al Con­trol If we feel the poten­tial for harm is bey­ond our con­trol – like a pas­sen­ger in an air­plane – we worry more than if we feel in con­trol – the driver of a car.
  5. Vol­un­tar­i­ness If we don’t choose to engage the risk, it feels more threat­en­ing.
  6. Chil­dren It’s much worse if kids are involved.
  7. Future Gen­er­a­tions If the risk threatens future gen­er­a­tions, we worry more.
  8. Vic­tim Iden­tity Iden­ti­fi­able vic­tims rather than stat­ist­ic­al abstrac­tions make the sense of risk rise.
  9. Dread If the effects gen­er­ate fear, the sense of risk rises.
  10. Trust If the insti­tu­tions involved are not trus­ted, risk rises.
  11. Media Atten­tion More media means more worry.
  12. Acci­dent His­tory Bad events in the past boost the sense of risk.
  13. Equity If the bene­fits go to some and the dangers to oth­ers, we raise the risk rank­ing.
  14. Bene­fits If the bene­fits of the activ­ity or tech­no­logy are not clear, it is judged to be ris­ki­er.
  15. Revers­ib­il­ity If the effects of some­thing going wrong can­not be reversed, risk rises.
  16. Per­son­al Risk If it endangers me, it’s ris­ki­er.
  17. Ori­gin Man-made risks are ris­ki­er than those of nat­ur­al ori­gin.
  18. Tim­ing More imme­di­ate threats loom lar­ger while those in the future tend to be dis­coun­ted.

For more on risk per­cep­tion, you can do worse than per­use the Wiki­pe­dia entry.