Tim McDaniels


Comments on Risk Perception and Extreme Events


Tim McDaniels

Extreme Event risk/non-marginal changes

• Another Definition: overwhelms standard coping mechanisms.

• Tax our management, impose stresses

• How we think about, perceive an action helps shape our standard coping mechanisms, and what is seen as extreme;

• perception partly determines what is an extreme event and what is not

What can risk perception research tell us generally

• Thoughts off the top of people’s heads, average person view

• How will a technology or event be widely seen: the broad comparative view

• Enormously useful for diagnosing conflicts, prescriptive aiding, communication

What to learn from Risk perception about extreme events

• Risk perception describes affective responses in systematic terms

• Affective responses are one explicit intended consequence of terrorism

• Affective responses are a fundamental influence on broader consequences

(financial, travel, investment, seeking of culprits)

• Thus efforts on mitigation/communication

Consider the over/under response to extreme events

• People tend to treat the likelihood of an extreme event as either 0 or 1.

• You can predict which will occur based on affective response, availability of events

• This thinking about extreme events may be shaped through “broad risk communication”

Influences of RP on Terrorism?

• Could not come up with a scenario more frightening: malevolent adversary, on TV, dramatic images, massive horror and destruction, then distributed through the mail system

• Assumption is we are all under active attack, life as we know it is collapsing

• Terrorists have great intuitive understanding of RP

What has RP given us so far

• Helps to predict when “social amplification” will occur, and so benefits of risk reduction bigger than might be thought

• enormously useful in designing communication

• Helpful in understanding the fundamental concerns that should help form objectives for policy decisions

• More need in context of extreme events

Where to go with new work?

• Risk perception of a range of extreme events?

• Risk perceptions of scenarios

• The links between the affective and cognitive modes of thinking or information processing. When do we benefit from intermingling and providing cues linking one to the other.

Decision Aiding/Risk


• Individuals and groups involve decisionaiding: how to blend the emotional and cognitive approaches for recommendations on policy/societal issues

• The influence of problem structuring tools on setting the framework for blending

• expanding the bounds, and improving awareness of, bounded rationality

Wider Ideas

• How to use perceptions, affective content, emotional impact broadly, as widespread screening?

• Note that when we can’t predict risks, then monitoring and rapid response becomes far more important

• Through understanding the affective content of language, we may be able to screen for terrorist actions better