Cambridge University Press
9780521802963 - The Psychology of Risk - by Glynis M. Breakwell

The Psychology of Risk

Risk surrounds and envelops us. Without understanding it, we risk everything and without capitalising on it, we gain nothing. This accessible new book from Glynis M. Breakwell comprehensively explores the psychology of risk, examining how individuals think, feel and act, as well as considering the institutional and societal assessments, rhetorics and reactions about risk. Featuring chapters on all the major issues in the psychology of risk including risk assessment, hazard perception, decision-making, risk and crisis management, risk and emotion, risk communication, safety cultures, the social amplification and social representation of risk, and mechanisms for changing risk responses, Breakwell uses illustrations and examples to bring to life the significance of her research findings. She provides an innovative overview of current knowledge on the subject but also suggests that there are many fascinating questions still to be answered.

GLYNIS M. BREAKWELL is Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath. She is a psychologist specialising in leadership, identity processes, risk communication and military cultures, and her research has resulted in her acting as an advisor to a number of government departments including the Department of Health, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence. Professor Breakwell has published over twenty books and hundreds of journal articles.

The Psychology of Risk

Glynis M. Breakwell

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Glynis M. Breakwell 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-0-521-80296-3 hardback

ISBN 978-0-521-00445-9 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or
accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to
in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such
websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

This book is dedicated with love and respect to
my father, Harold Breakwell, whose approach
to risk is unpredictable and inspirational.


List of boxespage viii
List of figuresix
1A psychological framework for analysing risk1
2Hazard perception12
3Individual and group differences in risk perception44
4Decision-making about risks78
5Risk and emotion109
6Risk communication130
7Errors, accidents and emergencies173
8Risk and complex organisations196
9Social amplification and social representations of risk224
10Changing risk responses266


Box 1.1  Elements in the analytic frameworkpage 9
Box 2.1  Risk assessment and risk perception14
Box 2.2  Risk of violence17
Box 2.3  A complex hazard: avian and pandemic flu22
Box 2.4  The psychometric paradigm27
Box 2.5  Heuristics and biases in judgement under uncertainty28
Box 2.6  Risk characteristics29
Box 3.1  Assessing the value of quantitative empirical studies45
Box 3.2  Personality traits and the Big Five49
Box 3.3  Self-efficacy, locus of control and risk perception54
Box 4.1  Hazard script: hurricanes94
Box 4.2  Mental models of global climate change97
Box 5.1  The worried well118
Box 6.1  Factors influencing the persuasiveness of a message132
Box 6.2  Emergent uncertainty149
Box 6.3  Communicating risks to public health155
Box 6.4  Hazard headlines157
Box 7.1  The Chernobyl errors177
Box 8.1  Common lessons of scenario planning for business continuity206
Box 8.2  Correlates of low accident rates in industrial facilities209
Box 8.3  The case of Sellafield211
Box 9.1  Eleven days in August 2006: terrorist plot to bomb aircraft227
Box 9.2  The layering method238


Fig. 1.1A generic framework for social psychological analysispage 8
Fig. 2.1Pipeline risk assessment method: event tree (Reprinted from Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, Vol. 4, D. A. Carter, ‘Aspects of risk assessment for hazardous pipeline containing flammable substances’, p. 68 (1991), with permission from Elsevier.)20
Fig. 2.2Societal risk tolerability (Reprinted from Major Hazard Aspects of the Transport of Dangerous Substances, with permission.)25
Fig. 2.3Characteristic profiling across hazards30
Fig. 2.4Distribution of hazards in a two-dimensional space (Reprinted from The Perception of Risk by Paul Slovic, p. 98 (2000), with permission from Earthscan Publications.)32
Fig. 2.5Factors 1 and 2 of a three-dimensional factor structure (Reprinted from The Perception of Risk by Paul Slovic, p. 142 (2000), with permission from Earthscan Publications.)33
Fig. 3.1Analysing perception of hazard characteristics47
Fig. 4.1Prospect theory value function (Reprinted from Econometrica, Vol. 47, D. Kahneman and A. Tversky, ‘Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk’, p. 279 (1979), with permission from The Econometric Society.)89
Fig. 4.2 Stylised mental model of food poisoning (Reproduced with the permission of the Royal Society of Medicine, London.)95
Fig. 4.3Group polarisation as self-categorisation induced conformity to a polarised norm105
Fig. 4.4Ingroup and outgroup initial bi-polarisation106
Fig. 5.1Incidence of the worried well (Reprinted from The Social Amplification of Risk by Nick Pidgeon, Roger E. Kasperson and Paul Slovic, p. 97 (2003), with permission.)120
Fig. 8.1A risk map198
Fig. 8.2Risk register201
Fig. 8.3Managing a meningitis outbreak204
Fig. 8.4The safety pyramid (Reprinted from Risk Analysis 2, Vol. 3 (3), J. Phimister et al., ‘Near-miss incident management in chemical industry: seven-stage framework’, p. 446 (2003), with permission from Blackwell Publishing.)217
Fig. 9.1The social amplification of risk framework (Reprinted from The Social Amplification of Risk by Nick Pidgeon, Roger E. Kasperson and Paul Slovic, p. 14 (2003), with permission.)226
Fig. 9.2Amplification processes247

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