Journal of Risk Research Vol. 11, No.

5, July 2008, 617–643

A characterisation of the methodology of qualitative research on the nature of perceived risk: trends and omissions
Gillian Hawkes* and Gene Rowe
Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, UK The issue of how risk is ‘perceived’ is one of significant research interest and immense practical importance. In spite of this wide interest, however, it is probably fair to say that most emerging ‘risk’ crises – whether related to natural or technological phenomena – come as a surprise to researchers and to society as a whole. Prediction of human responses to novel potential hazards (or novel manifestations of old hazards) is neither reliable nor complete; strategies to ameliorate inappropriate concerns when they arise (or to make realistic inappropriate absences of concern) do not appear totally effective. It therefore seems apt to ask the question: just what have we learned about ‘risk perception’? In this paper we conduct a structured review of qualitative research on perceived risk – to be followed by a subsequent analysis of quantitative research in a later paper – focusing upon methodological issues. Qualitative research often precedes quantitative research, and ideally informs it; it seeks depth and meaning from few subjects rather than identifying patterns within larger samples and populations. Without adequate qualitative research, quantitative research risks misanalysis of the target phenomenon, at the very least by the omission of relevant factors and inclusion of irrelevant ones. Our analysis here – of qualitative studies conducted across a range of disciplines, not all of which will be familiar to the readers of this journal – suggests that this research suffers from an incomplete coverage of the ‘risk perception universe’, typified by a focus on atypical hazards and study samples. We summarise the results of this research, while pointing out its limitations, and draw conclusions about future priorities for research of this type. Keywords: risk perception; qualitative research; structured review; risk communication

Introduction The issue of how risk is ‘perceived’ is one of significant research interest and immense practical importance, particularly with regard to the setting of social policies in almost every domain, from health to finance, and transport to the environment. Published research on risk perception has accumulated with increasing speed over the last few decades, largely following from the seminal work of Paul Slovic and colleagues in the late 1970s and onwards (e.g., Slovic, Fischhoff, and Lichtenstein 1979a, 1979b). In that time, research has led to a number of significant findings. For example, it is now generally recognised that laypersons perceive risk in a more complex, multi-dimensional way than do risk assessors, who base their assessments of risk on the likelihood of human harm (we hesitate to say ‘than experts’, given methodological difficulties with much of the research comparing laypersons to ‘experts’, e.g., see Rowe and Wright 2001; Sjoberg 2002). It has also ¨ been found that certain demographic and socio-economic factors are related to
*Corresponding author. Email:
ISSN 1366-9877 print/ISSN 1466-4461 online # 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13669870701875776

618 G. Hawkes and G. Rowe quantitative (if not qualitative) differences in risk perception: for example, males tend to rate the risks associated with (various/most) hazards as lower than do females. A variety of studies have also identified factors related to risk perception that have proven quite consistent across hazards and experimental samples – for example, the factor of ‘novelty/knowledge/uncertainty’ (howsoever this is phrased, e.g., Slovic, Fischhoff, and Lichtenstein 1980; Sparks and Shepherd 1994). In spite of the great research interest in this area, however, it is probably fair to say that most emerging ‘risk’ crises – whether related to natural or technological phenomena – come as a surprise to researchers and to society as a whole. Prediction of human responses to novel potential hazards (or novel manifestations of old hazards) is neither reliable nor complete; strategies to ameliorate inappropriate concerns when they arise (or to make realistic inappropriate absences of concern) do not appear totally effective (e.g., for a critique of risk communication research, see Bier 2001). It is notable, for example, that there is no widely accepted model of risk perception that indicates what factors are related to risk perception, and in what way, and there is no theory that might help researchers and policy makers predict public responses to novel potential hazards. Among the unresolved issues is whether risk perception is fundamentally or primarily cognitive or emotional/affective. It is also unclear how risk perceptions are formed and develop, and to what extent aspects such as culture and the nature of the hazard itself influence how (qualitatively and quantitatively) risks are perceived. Furthermore, it is pertinent to observe that research on the issue of risk perception has taken place in a variety of academic domains not all of which are known to researchers in the ‘risk’ domain – which has generally focused on risks associated with ecological and technological hazards. In medical disciplines, for example, there has been considerable research interest in the perceived ‘risks’ related to HIV infection and cancer – as will be shown later. In the face of all this uncertainty, it would seem warranted to address the various literatures in detail in order to understand the ‘state of play’ for the risk perception research community. This article is the first part of such a process: in this paper, we consider ‘qualitative’ research, and in a future paper we will turn to address ‘quantitative’ research. We have made this division as our main interest here is methodological, going beyond what research has found, to consider how it has been found. Our analysis and critique not only summarises what we do and do not know, but whether research is, and has been, conducted in such a way as to allow research questions like those indicated above to be addressed. As qualitative research often precedes quantitative work – as well as being a standalone research approach – it was considered useful to consider this body of work prior to tackling the larger body of quantitative research. It is often the case that qualitative research will precede quantitative research, mapping out the domain of interest in a relatively unconstrained and comprehensive manner. Such research is generally non-experimental; its aim – from one perspective – is to provide the raw material that may inform subsequent quantitative designs. (It is important to note, however, that qualitative researchers often see their work as an end in itself rather than as a precursor to quantitative research, its aim being to uncover a richness of processes that, they might argue, cannot be addressed adequately by simplistic quantitative methods.) In the risk perception field, however,

in this domain. Through a careful reading of the abstracts using the criteria discussed. By ‘structured review’ we mean that we have used a detailed search approach to identify relevant papers (as will be described). Such a dimension has more clearly emerged from subsequent work by Sjoberg (e. ‘Science Direct’. ‘mental models’ and ‘perceived risk’.g. In our next article we will tackle the larger domain of quantitative studies. In this paper we provide a structured review of qualitative studies of risk perception. we identify and critique qualitative studies carried out in the field of risk perception. and we characterise the nature of this research. The aim is to provide an overview of the field. the papers had to be in English. Fischhoff. and generally comment upon the comprehensiveness. As a case in point. which asked subjects to complete questionnaires rating different hazards on a number of different ‘risk characteristics’. and ‘Ingenta Connect’. Relevant papers were identified in November 2006 through searches in the internet-based databases ‘Web of Knowledge’. ones that may have appeared in journals not included in the databases examined.Journal of Risk Research 619 quantitative research (a term used here in a largely interchangeable way with ‘experimental’ research) has often taken place without preliminary qualitative studies – the designs being informed instead by theoretical (by which we often mean. for example. In essence. and their subsequent analysis suggested there might be a ‘naturalness’ dimension to risk perception not uncovered previously.g. this was reduced to 67 qualitative studies of direct relevance. ‘risk communication’. Fife-Schaw and Rowe (1996 2000) used focus groups to establish the kinds of risk characteristics that subjects thought might be important regarding food risks. they had to present the findings of empirical studies (therefore review articles. and the research methods used had to be qualitative in nature (or to include a qualitative – in addition to quantitative – component). The search terms used were ‘risk perception’. In particular. much of Slovic et al. We then searched the references in these papers to identify other relevant papers that our searches may have missed. For example.. Subsequent work using a similar research paradigm. has revealed other factors related to risk perception not uncovered in the earlier work. A number of criteria were devised to select a smaller sample of the most directly relevant papers for our current aims. commentaries and book reviews were excluded). but also to indicate methodological and theoretical improvements that can be made. discuss methodological deficiencies. and Lichtenstein 1980). but informing choice of questionnaire items by qualitative findings. A total of 2807 papers were identified by our searches. Method of review In this paper. they had to deal with risk perception (rather than with risk analysis or some other aspect of risk). validity and usefulness of qualitative research in this area. intuitive) insights. a study can ¨ only find relationships between factors that are somehow included within its design. including 13 studies that utilised both qualitative and quantitative research methods. and it is important to be sure that research addresses the whole domain set and not a selective subset of issues if we are fully to understand the phenomenon being studied. was based upon the researchers’ assumptions about which risk characteristics might be relevant (e. Our analysis of the references . That is. we consider the extent to which research has addressed different facets (the whole domain set) of ‘risk perception’.’s early psychometric work. Slovic. 2002).

Goldman et al... 2006). 2002). Lupton and Tulloch 2002. 2006 and Raithatha et al. with only three studies comparing a variety of hazard types (Lion. This table reveals that most studies have focused on a single hazard or type of hazard.. smoking (Hay et al.g. and Bot 2002.e. 2002 and Foster et al. According to the .g. Hawkes and G. SARS (Cava et al. The quantitative studies uncovered in our searches will be considered in a future paper. pregnancy (Chapman 2003). of course.. 2003). with a number of other studies addressing various technological and lifestyle hazards. and Rodham et al. Meertens. These figures reveal that circulatory diseases (which include cardiovascular diseases and stroke) had the highest death rate throughout the period from 1971–2004 (despite a fall of 58% since 1971).g. Rowe within the larger set of papers did not identify any further relevant papers. As will be discussed in a later section. nine considered breast cancer (e. and two focused on the vaccination of infants (Benin et al. Methodological characteristics of the qualitative risk perception studies Hazards studied In Table 2. Therefore. and this table should be referred to in order to identify the appropriate papers. The selected papers were then interrogated using the following questions: N N N N What hazards were studied? What research methods were used? How were research questions framed (i. These latter studies asked people generally what they were ‘worried about’. Bond et al. Most of the 64 remaining studies might be broadly categorised into those that either addressed health-related hazards (by which we mean diseases and medical interventions) or food-related hazards. three addressed cardiovascular disease (e.g. in order to gain some insight into the relative risk posed by these different hazards. In all subsequent tables. the hazards studied by the different papers are identified (see Table 1 for coding of these papers). Other conditions were only addressed by single studies. e. In order to save words and provide concise tables. differences in relative disease and mortality prevalence across developed countries). most of these studies took place in the developed world. we considered data on the main causes of death in the United Kingdom (recognising that there are.620 G. The second most common cause of death was respiratory diseases (which include pneumonia and bronchitis). and cystic fibrosis (Lowton 2004). with HIV/ AIDS the most frequently studied (by 11. Of the others in this category.. Connors 1992 and Go et al. the numeric label of these studies is used. 2002). 2006). what questions were asked of subjects)? What sampling methods were employed? A sample of the 67 papers was cross-checked for consistency of interpretation by at least two researchers. Most of the studies (39) were concerned with health-related hazards. two considered intravenous drug use (Dear 1995 and Miller 2005). 2005). 2006). e. and the third most common cause of death was cancers (of which lung cancer was the most common overall and breast cancer the most common in women) (Office of National Statistics 2006). Table 1 provides a code of the different risk perception studies identified.

Journal of Risk Research Table 1. in the same period. such as HIV/AIDS. (2003) Cava et al. (2004) Weegels and Kanis (2000) Wright. and Vena (2001) Beehler. and Beattie (2005) Dokova et al. and Gochfeld (1993) Carroll et al. and McAllister (2005) Raithatha et al. Shain. Wong. Meertens. and 151. and Eeles (2003a) Langford et al. . (2004) Go et al. (2006) Goldman et al. Thomas. For example. and Johnson (1995) Rodham et al. (2004) Wakefield and Elliott (2000) Wakefield and Elliott (2003) Walter et al.723 from circulatory diseases in the UK (WHO 2003). It would seem that there is a disjunction between the kind of hazards/risks chosen for study and the most severe hazards/risks faced by people in everyday life. Compare this to fatalities. and Vena (2003) Benin et al. 208 people died of HIV/AIDS. (2004) Quinn. Ardern-Jones. (2004) Hay et al. (2003) Ramos. (1998) ´ Smith et al. That is. (2002) Heyman et al. (2002) Gaskell et al. while 14. (2006) Gorin and Albert (2003) Hallowell et al. (2002) Bostrom et al.478 did so in the US. (2005) Jones and Haynes (2006) Katapodi et al. Other causes of death are far less common. (2005) Kenen. (2005) Chapman (2003) Connors (1992) Dear (1995) Denberg. in 2000 in the United Kingdom. and Bingham (2005) McAllister (2003) Mgalla and Pool (1997) Miles and Frewer (2001) Miller (2005) Moffatt and Pless-Mulloli (2003) Nelkin and Brown (1984) Ott et al. (2005) Fife-Schaw and Rowe (1996) Flint and Haynes (2006) Foster et al. (2004) Skidmore and Hayter (2000) ˇ Slachtova et al. (2002) Sobo (1993) Sobo (2005) Stanley (2005) Thirlaway and Heggs (2005) Tolley et al. this is broadly in line with the most common causes of death in developed countries (WHO 2003).186 from cancer and 236. The risk perception papers and their numerical identifiers. Paper Aldoory and Van Dyke (2006) Beehler. (2002) Code 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Paper Lupton and Tulloch (2002) Marrazzo. (2004) Salant et al. McGuinness. McGuinness.091 from cancer and 941. of 553. and Bot (2002) Lofstedt (2003) Lowton (2004) Luginaah et al. Tompkins. (2006) Salazar et al. (2006) Royak-Schaler et al. (2006) Holm and Kildevang (1996) Jensen et al. (1994) Brown and Ping (2003) Burger. Coffey. (2006) Trenoweth (2003) van Steenkiste et al. (2006) Bond et al. (2003) Poortinga et al. (2000) Lion.524 from circulatory diseases in the US. and Jones (2005) 621 Code 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 World Health Organisation data. Staine.

Health Total: 41 Hazard HIV/AIDS/STD Studies 12. 29. 60 5. 22. Rowe Table 2. 20. 51. electromagnetic fields Mars Sample Return programme Petroleum refinery 17 1 Adolescents’ risks Household goods 49 1 3 1 31 32* 1 1 66 1 Vaccination of infants SARS 4.622 G. 44. 26. 28. 3. 50. 48. 21. 37. Hazards studied. 40 N 3 Environmental Total: 13 Hazard Climate change Studies 6 N 1 Other Total: 3 Hazards General risks Studies N 36 1 Breast cancer (and ovarian cancer) Cardiovascular disease Intra-venous drug use 9 3 2 Fishing and 2. 32* Bioterrorism 1 3 Forest disturbance by Spruce Bark beetles Polluted coastal bathing waters Radon concentrations in houses. 39. 59 9. 30. 56. 62 13. 8 fish consumption GM food 7. dioxin emissions by incinerators. 47 2 10 1 Zoonotic risks (BSE and vCJD) Foot and Mouth Disease 27 1 33 1 45 1 35 1 Pregnancy Cancer Stroke Smoking Chromosomal abnormalities Cystic fibrosis 11 14 15 24 25 34 1 1 1 1 1 1 Opencast coal mining Hazardous chemicals Anthrax attacks Exposure to pesticides Heavy air pollution Noxious land uses 42 43 46 52 54 63 1 1 1 1 1 1 . 23. Hawkes and G. 58. 53. 19. 18. 41 N 11 Food Total: 12 Hazard General food risks Studies 16.

623 .Table 2. (Continued.) Health Total: 41 Hazard Colon cancer Huntingdon’s disease Day surgery Violence in mental health inpatients HRT Hepatitis C Anti-blood clotting medication 38 55 57 61 65 67 32* Studies N 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Food Total: 12 Hazard Studies N Environmental Total: 13 Hazard Non-hazardous industrial waste landfill Studies 64 N 1 Other Total: 3 Hazards Studies N Journal of Risk Research Note: * signifies study which examined hazards from more than one of the categories and thus appears more than once in the table.

whereas only three considered some form of cancer.g. there arises the issue as to whether our understanding of how people perceive risks is biased by a focus on unusual – and arguably. only two (Fife-Schaw and Rowe 1996.. two considered circulatory diseases. Brown and Ping 2003). Rowe nearly one third of those studies concerning health issues addressed a relatively minor hazard (AIDS/HIV) (although one of these was conducted in Tanzania. Foot and Mouth disease (with some reference to possible risks to food) (Poortinga et al. namely. zoonotic food risks (Jensen et al. Hawkes and G. and undermined by a lack of interest in hazards that have other. it has been estimated that eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce the risk of death from these chronic diseases by up to 20% (Department of Health 2000). to pesticide residues and heavy metal residues. and Miles and Frewer 2001) considered dietary aspects (high fat foods). media highlighted – hazards. In fact. Increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of many chronic diseases (WHO 2003). . Indeed. which is responsible for an estimated 9000 premature deaths per year. Of the other single-hazard studies. there are now many more people living with these diseases (British Heart Foundation 2004).. Beehler. Fife-Schaw and Rowe (1996) compared a total of 22 hazards. The proportion of studies addressing the specific hazards within other researched categories may also speak to this observation. 2004). we find that poor nutrition (the lack of healthy foods. and Holm and Kildevang (1996) asked subjects to consider food-related risks in general. As noted previously. Of the qualitative studies on food hazards. at least in qualitative research.e. pesticides and salmonella food poisoning. McGuinness. and none considered respiratory diseases. using the UK as a general guide.. high-fat foods.000 cancer deaths in the UK in 2000 (noted previously). and three considered fishing and fish consumption (with reference to heavy metal residues and pollution) (e. three focused upon genetically modified foods (e. and the over-indulgence in unhealthy ones such as those high in saturated fats) is likely the major cause of ill health and premature death (Department of Health 2005). cancer and cardiovascular diseases (including heart disease and stroke) are the major causes of death in the UK. while other hazards were considered by just a single study. and even then these were part of a suite of considered hazards. Notably.g. Miles and Frewer (2001) looked at five hazards. less media-worthy characteristics. 2005). been largely overlooked. If we now consider the studies on food-related hazards (of which there were 12). and a bioterrorist attack on the food supply chain (Aldoory and Van Dyke 2006). however. Unhealthy diets (together with physical inactivity) have contributed to the growth in obesity in the UK.624 G. More generally. and Vena 2003). about one third of cancers can be attributed to poor nutrition (Department of Health 2000) – and recall that there were over 150. where the disease is much more prevalent). which ranged from campylobacter and colourings. i. a recent study by the British Heart Foundation found that although the number of people dying of circulatory diseases has fallen over the past decade. BSE. GM foods. several of these compared a variety of hazards. If we consider which food-related hazards cause the most illness and death in the developed world (all the studies noted above took place in developed countries). accounting together for almost 60% of premature deaths. and thus accounts for 6% of all deaths (compared to 10% for smoking) (National Audit Office 2001). It is therefore notable that one of the biggest health hazards has.

2003).661) (ROSPA 2007). 81. The highest number of fatalities in 2005/6 occurred in accidents in and around the home (3541) followed closely by road accidents (3201). 2003). We have suggested that. since the omission of consideration of particular types of hazard might lead to a gap in our understanding of why people perceive some hazards as risky and others as not. the UK (e.Journal of Risk Research 625 Other hazards have attracted greater research interest. we considered the main causes of accidental death in the United Kingdom.. the bacterial causes of food poisoning have been addressed by four studies (Fife-Schaw and Rowe 1996.g.coli 0157. For example. including deaths through trespass). including those related to climate change (Bostrom et al. The study looking at Foot and Mouth disease (Poortinga et al. when we compare this to the non-health and non-food related hazards studied. we see a very different picture emerging. Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium perfringens. E. and might miss the identification of important factors related to perceptions (or non-perceptions!) of risk. passengers. as did the study which focused on a possible bioterrorist attack on the food supply chain (Aldoory and Van Dyke 2006). and which therefore. Thomas. 718 deaths in England and Wales in 2002 – see Rocourt et al.. The main issue we have attempted to raise in this analysis is the extent to which the universe of potential hazards has been addressed by research studies. While it is true that salmonella. although the highest number of casualties (non-fatal injuries) occurred in the home and during leisure activities (5. and McAllister 2005) and polluted coastal bathing waters (Langford et al. it is worth considering how these hazards compare to others in terms of potential severity. and in the work place (212. 2004) also reflected concern with a high profile hazard event. there were 161 probable cases of vCJD in the UK. they only cause a relatively few deaths (e. Miles and Frewer 2001). 1994). with 156 deaths) (The National Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease Surveillance Unit 2006). Jensen et al. We will return shortly to the implications of this focus of research. The same four studies that considered bacterial sources of food poisoning also considered BSE. it is clear that much more mundane. Holm and Kildevang 1996. for example.280 cases of food-borne illnesses in 2000: FSA 2002). It is also notable that five of the studies considered genetically modified foods – a highly contentious issue (whose risks are theoretical in nature) with high media coverage. 2000) to name a few. trespassers and suicides) (313). the studies on . account for the majority of cases of foodborne illness in our example developed country. Other qualitative studies have considered a range of environmental. This is a very high visibility hazard that has also caused relatively few illnesses and fatalities (as of 2006.g. though arguably less dramatic hazards are de facto riskier than some of the big issue hazards studied. on a year-by-year basis. cause fewer fatalities and injuries than the more day-to-day hazards that can be found in and around the home or on the road. However. 2005. technological and lifestyle hazards. Campylobacter. Though these bacteria are a major cause of illness and death in the developing world (Rocourt et al.577. taken together. To demonstrate this. Only one study focused on accidents sustained through the use of household goods. The others have focused on hazards that do not appear in the accident statistics. no studies have used samples from such locations (see later section on study samples). Though this is a small sample of studies to comment upon. but one that has not led to any definite cases of illness or death (FSA 2002). railway employees. For example. Anthrax attacks (Quinn. Other main causes of fatalities are on the railways (for example.

Shain. with omission of concern for lower profile and perhaps less dramatic and visual hazards. Regarding the interview studies (Table 3). to draw attention to other hazard types that research has neglected. For example.g. and the interview proceeded from there).g.. only the qualitative elements of the studies are discussed (those involving a quantitative aspect are indicated with an asterisk in Tables 3. though for the purposes of this review. used as the sole qualitative method in 40 studies. researchers reported being roughly guided by a number of questions about particular topics of interest to them (e. in the next section we discuss the nature of the samples used and other details from these tables. and one that used video reconstructions (Weegels and Kanis 2000). a total of 18 combined both a qualitative and a quantitative element. Miles and Frewer (2001) used the laddering technique in order to delve down to the values underlying participants’ responses (laddering requires the interviewer to constantly repeat the question: ‘and why is that important to you?’ to get beyond superficial answers and attempt to find the core values underlying these – e. Across these three ‘types’ of qualitative study. Another interesting variation was used by Weegels and Kanis (2000). The most commonly used method was the individual interview. of course.g. that is. Types of method used Tables 3. Table 3 records details of the interview studies. and includes details on a further nine studies that used interviews along with other qualitative methods. this being interviews). Bostrom et al. Ramos. but rather. as have those on food-related risks and (tentatively) those related to accidental hazards – in all cases there being a preponderant research interest in the populist. 2003). Other studies used a ‘mental models’ approach to elicit information from participants (e... 4 and 5 identify the research techniques employed in the qualitative studies (refer to Table 1 for the key to identify the noted papers). no reason not to study high visibility hazards: our aim is not to criticise the researchers studying these. 4 and 5). 1994). Five further studies are described in Table 5: these employed ‘other’ qualitative methods. Thirlaway and Heggs 2005). and Johnson 1995). although some interviews were less-structured (e. Katapodi et al. who showed video recordings of initial interviews to participants to . such as focus groups and ethnographic research. including two that used qualitative (open-ended) questionnaires (Lofstedt 2003. findings about which might arguably have greater implications for human health and risk communication. It is important to note here that the sample size figures in these tables refer solely to the number of participants studied using the particular method detailed in each table. 2005. Raithatha et al. two that used ethnographic research (Connors 1992. while focus groups were used as the sole qualitative method in 16 studies. see Miles and Rowe 2004). Table 4 details the focus group studies and includes information on seven additional studies that used this method along with another qualitative method (in each case. There is.. Lupton and Tulloch 2002 simply asked participants what they were worried about. In this section we discuss the types of method used. these were mostly semi-structured. Hawkes and G.g. A number of the other interview studies used slightly more involved methods.626 G. and not necessarily the total sample sizes within the noted studies per se. in which beliefs are elicited by allowing participants to give their own structure to the interview. Rowe health-related hazards have largely omitted consideration of the most risky hazards.

all pregnant Purposive USA All IDUs. Study Sample size Type of interview 4 Semi-structured Total 33 Type Purposive Sample characteristics Country USA 627 Comments on make-up 6* 8 Mental models Semi-structured 100 154 9 10 11*§ 12*# 13 14 15 17* 18 20 22* 23 24 25 26 27 29 30 34 35 Semi-structured Semi-structured Unstructured Semi-structured Unstructured Semi-structured Structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured 20 21 83 42 ? 24 635 115 15 22 26 30 15 54 20 24 11 21 31 29 36 38 39 40* 41 42* Unstructured Semi-structured Semi-structured Laddering Semi-structured Semi-structured 74 29 53 130 60 31 43 Semi-structured 75 All women. interviewed 1-3 days post-partum and again 3-6 months later Convenience USA 3 different studies Convenience USA Majority AfricanAmerican. Hispanic and unemployed Purposive UK All had type 2 diabetes Random Canada 7 were healthcare workers Snowball Mozambique All women.Journal of Risk Research Table 3. a further 66 took part in questionnaire Convenience Australia All IDUs Purposive USA Socio-economically diverse Random Bulgaria Convenience USA Random UK All women with history of breast/ovarian cancer Snowball Vietnam Purposive USA All women with close relative with breast cancer Purposive UK All women who had undergone genetic testing Purposive USA All were smokers Purposive UK Multiple interviews: pre-and post-screening Convenience Denmark Majority women Purposive Denmark 11 lay people and 13 experts Convenience USA All women with abnormal breast symptoms Purposive UK All women from high-risk families Purposive UK All cystic fibrosis sufferers Convenience USA Recruited after earlier questionnaire (indicated willingness) Convenience Australia Convenience UK All from high-risk families Random Tanzania 33 bar workers and 20 male visitors Convenience UK Majority women Purposive Australia All IDUs Purposive UK Recruited after earlier questionnaire (based on results) ? USA . Details of the interview studies.

field research.g. video reconstructions) stimulate further discussion about the topic of concern (accidents that had caused the participants to visit an Accident and Emergency department). majority African-American Convenience USA Snowball USA 47 48§# 51* 53 54*§ 55 56§ 57 58§ 60* 61 62 63 64 65§ 66# 67 Semi-structured Unstructured Semi-structured Unstructured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Semi-structured Structured Semi-structured 15 102 33 50 7 5 13 35 126 30 10 22 36 23 4 42 17 Convenience UK Purposive USA Convenience USA Convenience UK Purposive Czech Republic Convenience UK Purposive USA Convenience USA Purposive UK All women at high risk Parents and health professionals Purposive India All women. if the aim of a study is to be as open and flexible in data acquisition as possible. The number of focus groups held per study varied from 3 to 40. 21.628 G. that a large number of studies did not record full details about these important methodological features. 12. with the majority of studies interviewing 20–50 participants. 44. 16. The total sample size in these studies ranged from 4 to 635. 29. While on the topic of missing data. Consequently. 32. 8. Focus groups were used in 23 studies in total (see Table 4). (Continued. the total sample sizes ranged from 23 to 341. 40. 9. 6.) Study Sample size Type of interview 44 46§ Semi-structured Semi-structured Total 21 65 Type Sample characteristics Country Comments on make-up Majority AfricanAmerican. Hawkes and G. all postal workers Majority women (1 male) Recruited through field research All women. 31. while the number of participants per focus group ranged from 4 to 15. 38. we should also note a widespread absence of key details in many studies concerning the questions asked of participants. Rowe Table 3. however. 59 – see Table 1 for identification). 26. 51. 4. For example. 14 high risk. 16 low risk Purposive UK All nurses Convenience Netherlands Majority male Convenience Canada Purposive Canada Random UK All women Random Netherlands Also included video reconstructions Purposive UK All IDUs with Hepatitis C *: interviews and quantitative component §: interviews and focus groups #: interviews and other methods (e. It is significant to note. 57. 15. then there . 33. Naturally. only 20 studies recorded the questions asked (2.

g. field research) . Study Sample size N of N in focus groups focus groups 1 2 3 5* 7* 11*§ 16* 19* 21 28* 6 4 4 7 4 ? 9 40 7 8 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? 5-8 ? 4-15 Total Type Sample characteristics Country 629 Comments on make-up 62 37 33 30 100 83 ? ? 50 ? Convenience Convenience Snowball Purposive Random Snowball Convenience Convenience Random Convenience USA 31* ? ? 108 Purposive 32* 37 45* 9 ? ? ? ? ? 57 23 35 Convenience Convenience Convenience 46§ ? ? 65 Snowball 48§ 49 50 ? ? ? ? ? ? 150 24 42 Purposive Convenience Purposive 52 54*§ 56§ 58§ 65§ ? ? 3 63 ? ? ? 9 ? ? 33 ? 27 341 36 Purposive Purposive Purposive Convenience Random Most assoc with university USA Majority AfricanAmerican USA All Latinos USA All women with breast cancer USA Majority female (82%) Mozambique All pregnant women UK 10 EU countries USA Recruited topic blind UK Recruited via earlier questionnaire (indicated willingness) UK Recruited via earlier questionnaire (based on results) Netherlands Canada All lesbian and bisexual women UK Recruited via earlier questionnaire (indicated willingness) USA Majority AfricanAmerican postal workers USA Recruited through field research UK Majority female (16) USA All women and all African-American or Hispanic USA Aged between 13-16 Czech Unknown number took Republic part in focus groups USA Majority female and all African-American UK UK All women (additional 4 were interviewed) *: focus group and quantitative component §: focus group and interviews #: focus group and other qualitative method (e.. Details of the focus group studies.Journal of Risk Research Table 4.

It is apparent. Details of other qualitative studies. Sobo 2005. An approach using different but complimentary methods may thus be a more effective way to study a problem (Arhinful et al. that in many cases. Rowe Table 5. we know that a number of studies explicitly used the word ‘risk’ in their interrogations (e. Dokova et al. These are important issues to consider as the usage of specific terms – such as ‘risk’ or ‘worry’ – has the ability to frame the question and lead the questioning in a particular way (it is important that the question posed allows study participants to understand what is being asked of them. Hawkes and G.g. Holm and Kildevang 1996). interviews can suffer from a number of difficulties. although the method allows for the interviewer to probe for greater detail or elicit further information than methods such as questionnaires. such as the views of the interviewer biasing/ influencing the interviewee. while others were interested in exploring people’s risk perception about a very specific topic and therefore questioned participants in a more direct and controlled manner (e.g. weaknesses cannot be ameliorated. or minority views – although this method allows for interactive discussion. such as group consensus inhibiting original. some studies preferred to leave the questioning open. Thus.g. From this perspective. As has been discussed above. it is worth . Goldman et al. focus groups have other problems. Thus. however. For example. but we are unclear whether this phrasing was common.. In contrast. 2006). by focusing on one particular method. asking participants indirect questions and allowing concerns about hazards to surface unprompted (e.. 2–4).630 G. interview schedules and question wordings may have existed but not been reported. unorthodox. Little research has been conducted on differences or biases due to the differential framing of questions about ‘risk’: absence of methodological details in many studies prevents us saying more on this subject here. save to suggest that future studies ought to be more comprehensive in the descriptions of their methods. Because all data collection methods have strengths and weaknesses. while not being too ‘leading’). a majority of studies used either interviews (particularly semi-structured) as their data collection method. 1996. Study Sample size Type of method 33* 59 12§ 48§ 66§ Open-ended questionnaires Open-ended questionnaire Field (or ethnographic) research Field (or ethnographic) research Video reconstructions Total 70 176 42 252 42 Type Convenience Convenience Convenience Purposive Random Sample characteristics Country USA UK USA USA Comments on make-up Recruited outside museum All women All IDUs Field research used to recruit participants Netherlands Video reconstructions of accidents *: with quantitative element §: with interviews and focus groups may be no precise formulation of an interview question.. 2005). or focus groups. where a greater range of opinions can be sought.

and Johnson (1995). and McAllister (2005) also used different participants in each of several methods. filled out questionnaires. it was felt that the female participants here would likely disclose different levels of information in individual interviews than in group discussions. and 9 in ‘key informant’ interviews).Journal of Risk Research 631 discussing in more detail the nine studies that used multiple methods. it was nonetheless considered useful to acknowledge this in the research process. In this study. who used both focus groups and interviews but also used an ‘ethnographic’ research approach in order to recruit participants and help with the interviewing technique. That is. in the study by Sobo (1993). (2004) also used both focus groups and interviews with different participants.e. The ethnographic element was important to establish rapport and trust with the participants and also to shape and frame the way the interviews were conducted. and to take advantage of the different methods. Similarly. focus groups and interviews were conducted on the same sample – here. Quinn. in Chapman (2003). In this case it was felt that. the interviews were conducted in a naturalistic setting and the language (slang) of the participants was used by the interviewers. Walter et al. Because of the cultural beliefs surrounding pregnancy in Mozambique. being directed here by pragmatic considerations i. Some of these studies specifically sought to combine methods in a beneficial manner. conducting interviews with ‘key informants’ and following these with both focus groups and individual interviews with rank-and-file postal workers. and researchers were then able to explore key questions through both individual discussions and more interactive group ones (a total of 65 people took part in this study: 36 in focus groups. there was a deliberate decision to use group discussions and individual interviews with different groups of people to allow for different views to come out. and one used interviews in combination with video reconstructions (Weegels and Kanis 2000). 83 women took part in individual interviews. Taking a more naturalistic approach to qualitative research is arguably – like using multiple methods – a beneficial approach (though arguably this is less so in . 20 in interviews. two used interviews. one used interviews. Although it was clear that bravado and embarrassment play a role in group discussions about sexual activity (the focus of the study). In the case of the study conducted by Stanley (2005). and hence focus groups were used as well as interviews. using interviews for participants who could not take part in the focus group discussion. the focus groups being followed by individual interviews with 13 of the women who had taken part in these. questionnaires and ethnographic research. Five of these used focus groups and interviews. Thomas. it was important to also interview participants on a one-to-one basis. and so the same sample took part in all the different aspects of the study. and that this was best done after the women had become familiar with the researchers during the group process so that accrued trust might encourage a greater level of disclosure. questionnaires and focus groups. An interesting additional element to qualitative research is found in Ramos. it is unclear if a separate sample took part in the focus groups and in the interviews. though the methods in combination served to elicit generalised views on risks and how participants view these (focus groups) and how participants dealt with these risks on a daily basis (individual interviews).. For example. and were part of a series of focus groups. Shain. In this study. because the group discussions were on a sensitive topic (sexual activity and HIV/AIDS). participants were allowed to select the interview format that they were most comfortable with.

.632 G. Shain. 2006 and Benin et al. We might learn more about what hazards truly concern people. who may experience needs for socially desirable responding). even when they had been given the all-clear. The later interviews were useful in gaining further insight in how women responded to their increased risk status.e. in other cases (e. (2000). followed by focus groups some time later. Fife-Schaw and Rowe 1996). That is. in which the participants’ risk exposure and behaviour were observed. with questionnaires initially used to assess views on a particular highprofile topic. though the samples in the two stages were different. The same group of women was interviewed after they had received further confirmation of their high risk status (or not). using interviews preceded by field research.. 2000) participants in the focus groups were recruited after having taken part in a previous quantitative study. In conclusion. (2006) also interviewed mothers at different time intervals: the first series of interviews was conducted 1–3 days post-partum and the second series once the baby was aged between three and six months. We suggest that the risk perception domain might benefit from more ethnographic research.. In some cases qualitative research preceded and thus informed later quantitative work (e. whereas in Langford et al. focus groups followed by interviews). 2006). it is worth noting that most of the studies discussed here focused on perceptions of risk at a particular moment in time: there is little that most of these studies can truly contribute to our knowledge of how perceptions emerge and change through time. Several other studies were interesting for combining a qualitative and quantitative component. Poortinga et al. In the study carried out by Heyman et al. This allowed some commentary on how views might have changed in the intervening period.g. (2006). and Johnson (1995). and Langford et al. Jones and Haynes 2006. Benin et al. The aim of the study was thus to try and understand how women respond to being placed in a higher risk category and what effect this has on their lives. the study of Connors (1992) is notable in this regard.. recruitment was done on the basis of participants showing willingness to take part in a further element of the study. focus group participants were specifically selected on the basis of responses from a previous quantitative study. Heyman et al. and may invoke particular frames of responding (i. by taking our studies outside the laboratory. (2004) also used a two-stage approach. Aside from Ramos.g. .. we would recommend that more longitudinal research is conducted in order to improve our understanding of the development and life-course of risk perceptions. The focus of this study was mothers’ risk perceptions of vaccinations. women were interviewed immediately after they received the news that their unborn babies might be at higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities.g. Rowe quantitative or experimental research. where greater control over the research environment is needed). and in what way. 2004. Poortinga et al. most studies have operated in somewhat ‘sterile’ academic environments that remove relevant environmental cues to thoughts and behaviour. and it also looked at the sources of information different mothers used at different times to inform their decision-making process. and how these changed over time and in what way.g. Hawkes and G. participants being framed as experimental subjects. there were only a few that specifically did this to explore change over time (e. In the case of Poortinga et al. Finally. (2004) and Jones and Haynes (2006). Although some studies (see above) did use consecutive methods (e.

it is difficult to generalise to the wider population from such studies.Journal of Risk Research Study samples 633 The first aspect worthy of note concerns the locations in which the studies were carried out. It is also possible that the role and importance of socioeconomic characteristics may be underestimated by our focus on relatively wealthy samples. Number of studies by country. If we look further at the sampling details. And given global variations in research funding opportunities. there is a danger that our knowledge of the extent of this factor’s role will be undermined by the relatively narrow focus of research on Western civilisation. Tolley et al. Research results – as will be suggested in the final section of this paper – do indeed suggest that cultural and socio-economic aspects are important factors in explaining how and whether people perceive something as ‘risky’ (see Connors 1992. eight took place in other European countries. if culture plays a role in how people perceive risks. it is also unsurprising that almost all of the other studies have taken place in developed countries. the English-speaking-world bias is perhaps unsurprising. such as roughly even splits of males/females). and though the researchers themselves may take care not to Figure 1. Given that one of our selection criteria was publication in English. A few studies employed snowball sampling (participants effectively helping to recruit other participants). with only four in developing countries. Certainly. 2006). Sobo 1993. and three in Australia. most studies were either carried out in North America (USA and Canada) (30 in total) or the UK (22). However. the method should only really be used when more sophisticated recruitment methods are utterly unfeasible. Of the rest. These details are recorded in Tables 3–5. and reflects difficulties in sample recruitment. Though convenience sampling is a method often used in qualitative research. As can be seen in the figure. . 4 and 5 also detail the characteristics of the samples used in the various studies. Chapman 2003. and are summarised in Figure 1. Tables 3. Relatively few studies claimed to attain random samples (by which we essentially mean samples that roughly took into account or controlled for major socio-demographic differences. we find that most of the studies used convenience samples – by which we mean participants were chosen on the basis of their availability rather than their representativeness of any particular population – though a fairly high number instead involved purposive sampling (attaining participants of particular types).

9. we tentatively suggest that others citing their works may be less careful in repeating the necessary caveats in their summaries (a hypothesis we invite others to test). 16.634 G. 63.g. 30. 17. 54. Only about one-third of studies comprised the first type. demographics. 24.g. 40. Fife-Schaw and Rowe 1996) or the more general topic of what people perceive as risky (e. 31. 15. 22. In particular. 39. where we make some general remarks on this aspect only). 47. 23. then studies using this approach are likely to miss the collection of important perspectives from unsampled population subsets and potentially claim to ascertain general trends that are not the case.g. some focused on those with a high risk of hazard exposure. 60. 55. 12. suggesting that the researchers were unaware how important such factors might be for explaining their results (it is mainly for this reason that we limit commentary on precise sample characteristics. 13. or else why would they respond to recruitment requests? Again. 46. 21.. Note that we have classified some of these studies in Tables 3–5 as having employed ‘convenience’ samples. Rowe over-generalise. It should be noted. 6.. were completely topic blind (though some undoubtedly were fairly vague in informing subjects what their research was about in order to address this potential source of bias e. 26. Different types of samples used (refer to Table 1 for coding). 56. to the final column. 14.. 50. that unless people are recruited to a study ‘topic-blind’. and these mainly addressed food hazards (e. 20. and culture played no role in risk perception. 59 Directly at risk 2. 58. Rodham et al. 45. Holm and Kildevang (1996) deliberately avoided using the terms food risk and food safety. 53. Types of samples used General population Studies Number of studies 21 21 25 1. 52. instead phrasing their study as just being about food). 3. 28. 18. Hawkes and G. 43. 41. however. 42. it is clear that studies may be divided into either those that have sought to sample members of the general population (or a convenience sample thereof) with no particular engagement with the hazard in question. 64. Convenience sampling would be more valid if aspects such as socioeconomics. 11. 27. 5. 57. 19. 44. they were Table 6. 7. It is worth noting at this point that many studies failed to record demographic characteristics of their samples. 10. research details in many of the published studies do not allow us to ascertain the exact information used to entice respondents to take part in the studies. Of those studies that sampled people with some particular interest in the hazard/s in question. 2006). 34. 38. 67 Special interest in risk 4. 8. 33. because although their participants may have been recruited (conveniently) due to their membership of the group of interest. although we suspect few. while others focused on those with particular hazard knowledge (not necessarily experts. 37. 62. 35. 65. 51. in Tables 3–5. There are a number of other sampling trends that are worthy of note. 32. 48. 61. but perhaps informed citizens or people related to others who had suffered from a hazard). 36. Lupton and Tulloch 2002. if any. one might argue that they are likely to have some special interest in or knowledge of the topic. 66 . Table 6 reveals how we have classified studies in this respect. 29. or they have sampled people or groups that have some particular interest in the hazard/s studied. 25. 49. but if they do.

it might seem somewhat odd to review an area of research and not give any details of what has been found. and third.. because this would detract from our methodological critique. Wakefield and Elliott 2000 looked at the risk perception of people who lived in the immediate area of a proposed landfill site as well as people who visited the area on a regular basis). Staine. or exposure to. but as a whole we would argue that – particularly in the light of factors discovered to be important in understanding risk perception – they do not adequately cover the issue universe. indicating the importance of exposure/ knowledge factors to risk perception.g. and Jensen et al. most of these studies provide valuable insights into aspects of risk perception. In summary. often with a particular interest in. Individually. There were 21 studies whose participants were selected for being at high risk of. Some results of the qualitative studies The focus of this paper is predominantly methodological. however. the hazard/s of interest to the researchers. such as fishermen (Burger. 2002) and people exposed to pollution (e. first. compared people with a special interest in the hazard to other samples that did not have such a strong association with the hazard: Poortinga et al. A number involved participants who voluntarily engaged with the hazard. Our analysis of the chosen qualitative papers has included consideration of results. but we will not discuss these in detail here.g. or with (relatively) high knowledge about the particular hazard in question. The latter two studies.Journal of Risk Research 635 recruited without deliberate consideration of other (e. they indicate collectively how the voluntariness of hazard exposure is an important factor in risk perception). such as adolescents who were taking part in an education programme about HIV (Ott et al. though they say little about the general population at large. Miller 2005). while others focused on those who were involuntarily at risk from the hazard. second. (2004) considered samples that were more or less affected by a Foot and Mouth disease outbreak.. and also indicating the limits of generalising findings from studies using ‘specialist’ samples to the population at large. the hazard in question. it is our intent to follow this paper with another considering the methodology . because the results of the 67 studies are extensive. However. however. or knowledge about. Two of these studies. because it is more apt to combine a discussion of the results from the qualitative risk perception work with that from the quantitative research (of which there are more studies). the former studies potentially give us important insights into risk-taking and how people accommodate the risks they face (e. socio-economic) factors beyond the main selection criterion. Generally. and Gochfeld 1993) and intra-venous drug users (Connors 1992. A majority of the studies noted have employed convenience samples from developed world countries..g. found some differences in their samples’ responses to the hazards of concern. parents who had chosen to vaccinate their children (Raithatha et al. and to detail them in a way that would do them justice would not allow this paper to remain within acceptable word limits. such as people with a genetic predisposition to a particular disease (Smith et al. 2003). and parents whose children had undergone day surgery (Sobo 2005). 2003). Twenty-five studies sampled people with a special interest in. (2005) compared expert and lay perspectives on zoonotic risks. Thus. sampling is a key issue. in order to avoid a partial and unbalanced analysis of the factors related to risk perception.

van Steenkiste et al. but rather. 2005). and Bot 2002. and Gochfeld 1993. Salazar et al. but which focused on poor African-American women. Lion. It is notable that across the qualitative studies a number of key findings recur. Generally. (2006) found that mothers with the highest level of medical knowledge were the most concerned about the risks of vaccinating their children (here. 2004). The problem across all of these studies is in establishing a benchmark for knowledge levels.. as is popularly said.. Gaskell et al.. though this is not a straightforward relationship. while high perceived control over a hazard/activity is associated with lower perceived risk.g. Lupton and Tulloch 2002.g. the concern may have led them to seek out the knowledge in the first place). 1998. and further. because they believe that public knowledge of their condition could lead to their being cursed by jealous neighbours! Sobo (1993) also showed. Aldoory and van Dyke ˇ 2006. Burger.g.. Chapman found that women here purposefully avoid ante-natal care.g. Relatedly. an intermediate state of knowledge) that is a dangerous thing? This would seem a topic worthy of future research. and Vena 2003). and lower control. in a study carried out in the USA.g. Hawkes and G. 2004. 2006. hinting at the kinds of factors that appear to be related in some manner to risk perception. in terms of level of perceived risk. Connors 1992. For example.. Mgalla and Pool 1997. others have suggested that low levels of knowledge are related to lower perceived risk (e. Gaskell et al. it seems as though familiarity/high knowledge (expertise) reduces perceived risk (e. particularly where the nature of results speak to some of the methodological points we have been making throughout. Salant 2006). McGuinness. Earlier we commented on the importance of culture and its influence on risk perception. demographic aspects such as age and sex were indicated as important for risk perception by some studies (e. is associated with higher perceived risk (e. 2004). then risk perception is low (e. 2004). Beehler. it is a little knowledge (i. Rodham et al.g. Dokova et al. One nice example of this comes from Chapman (2003). Meertens. and Eeles 2003. and then a further paper summarising all that we have found from research on risk perception across all methods. 2004). Rowe of quantitative research.636 G.e. Walter ´ et al. Perhaps both low knowledge and high knowledge (and familiarity) are related to lower perceived risk – and.g. For example.. Ardern Jones. Indeed. Absence of perceived benefits is also associated with heightened risk perception. several studies associate low levels of trust in an appropriate body with high levels of perceived risk and vice versa (e. we will present a broad overview of some of the main result trends here. nor because they do not want help. The voluntariness with which a hazard is engaged is also found important: typically. Kenen. Miller 2005). and the thought processes related to the concept.. Benin et al. Miles and Frewer 2001. or high powerlessness. who looked at the perceptions of pregnant women in Mozambique.. how it is important not to assume that the risks . or vice versa (e. Brown and Ping 2003. this uncertainty about the significance of familiarity/knowledge levels emphasises the point we previously made about the importance of measuring and recording precise aspects of one’s sample. Wakefield and Elliott 2000. Aspects such as knowledge and familiarity come through as important factors related to risk perception in a number of studies. Staine. Slachtova et al. not because they don’t appreciate childbirth risks. if voluntariness is high. Nevertheless. that people may deliberately refrain from finding things out in order to avoid scaring themselves (Aldoory and van Dyke 2006. Brown and Ping 2003. but for our present purposes. Miller 2005.

. and in using numerical scales (e. and Katapodi et al. Significantly. our analysis of the qualitative risk perception studies suggests the following: N N N N N Most of the hazards studied have been somewhat unusual. Conclusions In summary. various studies have interesting things to say. and loss of face and status (i. public stigma. (2005) suggested that cognitive heuristics lead to predictable biases in people’s risk assessments. Most of the studies have relied on one method of data collection. Research using combinations of techniques may be useful. Coffey. but for the participants. and being based on prevailing views within a community (Marrazzo. we have relatively little knowledge about perceptions of low concern/high risk hazards – or the process by which hazards change from being perceived as low to high risk (and vice versa). Jensen et al.. rather than a longitudinal one.e. Weegels and Kanis 2000). 2002). Collectively. media) interest and public concern. 2004. Hay et al... The acquisition of risk perceptions has also been related to ‘personal theories of inheritance’ (e. 2005. Royak-Schalter et al. We also suggest there is a need for more ethnographic research.Journal of Risk Research 637 associated with a particular hazard will be perceived the same way by everyone. or sharing certain traits with.g. Can we therefore be sure that differences identified in risk perceptions (e. while Bostrom et al. Other biases in perception have been linked to lay people having difficulties in understanding risk figures. wording/ phrasing used. In this case. Most studies present generally a static one-off picture of perceptions.g. More research needs to be conducted in other cultures involving a wider variation of demographic and socio-economic characteristics. the risks associated with practising safe sex were greater – such as abandonment by their partners. One theme that occurs is how aspects of human judgment and decision making can impact on perceived risk. (1994) described misconceptions held within lay ‘mental models’. others who had had the disease) (McAllister 2003). or differences in the framing of the questions posed? The vast majority of studies have taken place in developed countries. . but relatively low risk. i.g. 2002. ‘risk’ is more than just a health concept). 2005) are due to the differences between the people being questioned.g..e. between lay people and experts. see Jensen et al. once more. typified by high contemporary (e. few of the hazards studied have been major causes of death in the countries in which they were studied. in using frequencies. and Bingham 2005) – the latter. ‘optimistic bias’ (perceiving oneself less at risk than a comparable other) – is reported in several studies (Luginaah et al. it would be useful if there was more research using other qualitative methods in order to correct biases inherent in any one research technique. In terms of the kinds of mental processes associated with risk perception.. for example. emphasising a link with culture. Most studies do not record the specific details of. making it difficult to judge the effectiveness and consistency of their research questioning. people most likely to fall victim to a disease being those looking most like. For example. interviews. and hence. sex educators perceived the risks of not practising safe sex to be contracting HIV/ AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections.

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