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Project 1 - Contagious Risk Perception

Project 1 - Contagious Risk Perception: The Social Dynamics of Risk Perception and Attitudes Towards Preventive Behaviors (PI: Wolfgang Gaissmaier)

[Ansteckende Risikowahrnehmung: Die soziale Dynamik von Risikowahrnehmung und Einstellungen gegenüber präventivem Verhalten]


Building on our previous research on risk perception, risk communication, and on the social amplification of risk, our research project ‘Contagious Risk Perception’ will focus on the details of the social dynamics of risk perception, particularly how the between-subjects trajectories of risk perceptions and preventive health behaviors develop within social networks and how these trajectories can be influenced by risk communication. Therefore, this proposal complements the other projects that focus primarily on the within-subjects dynamics of risk perception by additionally focusing on the between-subjects, social dynamics of risk perception. In Work Package 1, we will conduct two online studies in the context of influenza vaccination that uncover the interplay of each of the components of the PEC-Cycle in more detail. Here, preparedness is a participant’s initial risk perception and attitude towards corresponding preventive behaviors, exposure is new information about the risk and about corresponding preventive behaviors, and coping is the participant’s adjustment of the risk perception and, eventually, corresponding behavior change. Importantly, since we are interested in the social dynamics of risk perception, an important building block of our study is how one participant processes and summarizes the risk information for a subsequent participant in a social information chain, and how the information and, correspondingly, risk perceptions and attitudes change over time through social exchange. These social dynamics of risk perception and preventive behaviors can have undesired consequences from a public health perspective if they fuel risk perceptions and attitudes that are at odds with expert evaluations. Consequently, Work Package 2 explores how effective methods of risk communication, particularly visual displays, can help alleviate these undesired effects. Finally, Work Package 3 aims to understand how those dynamics actually unfold within naturally existing social networks. To this end, we will conduct a longitudinal assessment of the social dynamics of risk perceptions in a natural social network of students.


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Gaissmaier (PI)

Dr. Helge Giese

Dr. Niels Haase