Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Computer and Security Science

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr David J Brooks

Second Advisor

Dr Michael Coole

Third Advisor

Associate Professor Patricia Williams

Abstract

Risk is generally understood as a product of the likelihood and consequence of an event. However, the way in which estimations of consequences are formed is unclear due to the complexities of human perception. In particular, the influence of Affect, defined as positive or negative qualities subjectively assigned to stimuli, may skew risk consequence judgements. Thus a clearer understanding of the role of Affect in risk consequence estimations has significant implications for risk management, risk communication and policy formulation.

In the Psychometric tradition of risk perception, Affect has become almost synonymous with the concept of Dread, despite Dread being measured in a way which excludes emotional elements. One of the most consistent findings of the Psychometric Paradigm is that the level of Dread associated with a hazard is the best predictor of perceived risk. However, there is debate over whether Dread risk is associated with Affect, or whether the factor is dominated by severe consequences. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the association of Affect with Dread risk characteristics and risk consequence judgements. The study investigated whether the predictive power of Dread should be attributed to negative Affect, or to cognitive estimations of the magnitude and severity of consequences.

The study employed a three Phase between-subjects design, with respondents from 28 countries (N=1838) completing emotionally and neutrally worded research instruments based on the Psychometric Dread risk model. Results were assessed via descriptive data analysis, t-tests, Factor Analysis and Multidimensional Scaling. The study found that the association of Affect on estimations of risk consequence was largely confined to the Dread risk characteristics of personal control and voluntary choice. These were secondary to the much larger influence of the consequence severity characteristics, estimations of which were unmoved by negative Affect. The study concluded that the Dread risk factor is primarily an unemotional measure of the severity of risk consequences, and the role of emotion in Dread risk is a separate factor related to control and choice.

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