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Article

Using Maps to Display Geographic Risk, Personal Health Data, and Ownership  

Suellen Hopfer and Genesis Gutierrez

Fundamental structural features of risk maps influence how health risk and burden information is understood. The mapping of health data by medical geographers in the 1800s has evolved into the field of geovisualization and the use of online, geographic information system (GIS) interactive maps. Thematic (statistical) map types provide basic principles for mapping geographic health data. It is important to match the nature of statistical data with map type to minimize the potential for communicating misleading messages. Strategic use of structural map features can facilitate or hinder accurate comprehension of health risk messages in maps. A key challenge remains in designing maps to communicate a clear message given the complexity of modern health risk burdens. Various structural map features such as symbols, color, grouping of statistical data, scale, and legend must be considered for their impact on accurate comprehension and message clarity. Cognitive theory in relationship to map comprehension plays a role, as do insights from research on visualizing uncertainty, future trends in developing predictive mapping tools for public health planning, the use of geo-social and “big data,” as well as data ownership.

Article

Mental Models of Risk  

Ann Bostrom

Mental models of health risks are the causal beliefs that comprise one’s inference engines for the interpretation and prediction of health and illness experiences and messages. Mental models of health risks can be parsed into a handful of common elements, including beliefs about causes, consequences, and cures as well as identifying information such as symptoms and timing. Mental models research deriving from a risk and decision analysis framework emphasizes exposure sources and pathways as part of causal thinking as well as how interventions may reduce or increase the risk. Mental models can be developed as a function of one’s goals or the problem in a specific context, rather than as coherent, stable knowledge structures in long-term memory. For this reason they can be piecemeal and inconsistent in the absence of expertise or experience with the risk. Derived often by analogy with more familiar risks, mental models of health risks can lead to effective health behaviors but also to costly inaction or misplaced action. Assessing mental models of hazardous processes can contribute to the design of effective risk communications by identifying the concrete information message recipients need to cope with health risks, thereby making or strengthening common-sense links between risk and action representations. Although a wide variety of research methods are used to investigate mental models, achieving this level of specificity requires attention to substantive details. Researchers are beginning to better understand the interactions between mental models of risk and their social, cultural, and physical contexts, but much remains to explore.

Article

Numeracy in Health and Risk Messaging  

Priscila G. Brust-Renck, Julia Nolte, and Valerie F. Reyna

The complexity of numerical information about health risks and benefits places demands on people that many are not prepared to meet. For example, much information about health is communicated numerically, such as treatment risks and effectiveness, lifestyle benefits, and the chances of side effects from medication. However, many people—especially the old, the poor, and the less educated—have difficulty understanding numerical information that would enable them to make informed health decisions. Some evidence also suggests cultural and gender differences (although their causes have been disputed). The ability to use and understand numbers (i.e., numeracy) plays an important role in how information should be displayed and communicated. Measuring differences in numeracy provides a standard to guide one’s approach when communicating risk. Several surveys have been developed to allow for a descriptive assessment of basic and analytical mathematical skills in nationally representative samples (e.g., NAEP, NAAL, PISA, PIACC). Other measures assess specific skills, such as perception of numbers (e.g., number line, approximation, dots tasks), individual perception of one’s own ability (i.e., Subjective Numeracy Scale), and arithmetic computation ability (i.e., Objective Numeracy Scales, Abbreviated Numeracy Scale, and Berlin Numeracy Test). Difficulties associated with low numeracy extend well beyond the inability to understand place value or perform computations. Understanding and remediating low numeracy requires getting below the surface of errors in judgment and decision making to the deeper level of scientific theory. Despite the relevance of numbers in decision making, there is a certain level of disagreement regarding the psychological mechanisms involved in numeracy. Studies show that people have a basic mental representation of numbers in which the discriminability of two magnitudes is a function of their ratio rather than their difference (psychophysical approaches). Numerical reasoning has been identified with quantitative and analytical processes, and such computation is often seen as an accurate and objective way to process information (traditional dual-process approaches as applied to numeracy). However, these approaches do not account for the contradictory evidence that reliance on analysis is not sufficient for many decisions and has been associated with worse performance for some decisions. Studies supporting a more recent dual-process approach—one that accounts for standard and paradoxical effects of numeracy on risk communication—emphasize the role of intuition: this is a kind of advanced thinking that operates on gist representations, which capture qualitative understanding of the meaning of numbers that is relevant in decision making (Fuzzy Trace Theory). According to Fuzzy Trace Theory, people encode both actual numbers (verbatim representations) and qualitative interpretations of their bottom-line meaning (gist representations) but prefer to rely on the qualitative gist representations when possible. Thus, potential difficulties in decision making arising from deficits in numeracy can be resolved through meaningful communication of risk. Creating narratives that emphasize the contextually relevant underlying gist of risk and using methods that convey the meaning behind numeric presentations (e.g., use of appropriate arrays to communicate linear trends, meaningful relations among magnitudes, and inclusion relations among classes) improve understanding and decision making for both numerate and innumerate individuals.

Article

A Relational Approach to Risk Communication  

Jing Zhu and Raul P. Lejano

It is instructive to juxtapose two contrasting models of risk communication. The first views risk communication as a product that is packaged and transmitted, unmodified and intact, to a passive public. The second, a relational approach, views it as a process in which experts, the public, and agencies engage in open communication, regarding the public as an equal partner in risk communication. The second model has the benefit of taking advantage of the public’s local knowledge and ability to engage in risk communication themselves. Risk communication should be understood as more of a dynamic process, and less of a packaged object. An example of the relational model is found in Bangladesh’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme, which has incorporated the relational model in its disaster risk reduction training for community volunteers. Nevertheless, the two contrasting models, in practice, are never mutually exclusive, and both are needed for effective disaster risk prevention.

Article

Social Amplification of Risk in Health and Risk Messaging  

Yulia A. Strekalova and Janice L. Krieger

Risk is a social construction, and its understanding by information consumers is shaped through interaction with messages, opinions, shared and learned experiences, and interpretations of the characteristics of risk. Social actors and information flows can provide heuristic cues about risks, their relative importance and unimportance, and the attention that an information consumer ought to pay to a particular risk. Social cues can also accentuate particular characteristics of risk, further amplifying or attenuating attention to it and shaping behaviors. This, in turn, can generate secondary and tertiary effects resultant from the public’s reaction to risk. The process of social amplification of risk, therefore, has structural components that include the social elements that get enacted in the process of the translation of risk information. Risk amplification is also affected by message factors, which can dramatize information, increase attention and uncertainty, and generate shared signals and symbols. And finally, social amplification of risks results in reactions that can shape pathways for risk assessment and management, frame views, fuel intergroup dynamics in response to risk, contribute to the accumulation of experiential knowledge and signals of different risk situations, and label and stigmatize some groups or outcomes as undesirable.

Article

How Perceptions of Risks Affect Responses to Climate Change: Implications for Water Resource Planning  

Sonia Akter and Shaleen Khanal

The link between risk perception and risk response is not straightforward. There are several individual, community, and national factors that determine how climate change risk is perceived and how much of the perception translates to response. The nexus between risk perception and risk response in the context of water resource management at the individual, household, community, and institutional level has been subject of a large body of theoretical and empirical studies from around the globe. At the individual level, vulnerability, exposure, and cognitive factors are important determinants of climate change risk perception and response. At the community level, risk perception is determined by culture, social pressure, and group identity. Responses to risk vary depending on the level of social cohesion and collective action. At the national level, public support is a key determinant of institutional response to climate change, particularly for democratic nations. The level of global cooperation and major polluting countries’ willingness to curb their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions also deeply influence policymakers’ decisions to respond to climate change risk.

Article

Exemplification Theory in Health and Risk Messaging  

Patric R. Spence, David Westerman, and Robert G. Rice

Humans often prefer representations that are cognitively easier to store, and such representations are easier to retrieve later to make judgments about the social world. Exemplification theory draws on physiological memory mechanisms and argues that simple, iconic, concrete, and emotionally arousing depictions of events (exemplars) are favored and thus more likely to be stored and used than are abstract, inconsequential depictions or representations. Inconsequential information or representations are forgotten because they are not processed as being essential for survival. Exemplified events vary on a continuum of how accurately they represent a larger occurrence of events. Through specific uses of pictures, quotes and other depictive strategies, concrete, iconic, and emotionally arousing information is often added to a story. Research has documented the strength of specific exemplars in creating inaccurate estimations of events and perceptions of severity and susceptibility. Moreover, in the presence of a risk, portrayals with exemplars have been shown to motivate individuals to intend to change behavior. Exemplification is a strong theory that is understudied and underutilized. The theory has strong explanatory, predictive, and organizing power, and it has application to phenomena in contexts such as media effects, persuasion, crisis and risk communication, health communication and public relations.

Article

Absent Information in Integrative Environmental and Health Risk Communication  

Jari Lyytimäki and Timo Assmuth

Communication is typically understood in terms of what is communicated. However, the importance of what is intentionally or unintentionally left out from the communication process is high in many fields, notably in communication about environmental and health risks. The question is not only about the absolute lack of information. The rapidly increasing amount and variability of available data require actors to identify, collect, and interpret relevant information and screen out irrelevant or misleading messages that may lead to unjustified scares or hopes and other unwanted consequences. The ideal of balanced, integrative, and careful risk communication can only rarely be seen in real-life risk communication, shaped by competition and interaction between actors emphasizing some risks, downplaying others, and leaving many kinds of information aside, as well as by personal factors such as emotions and values, prompting different types of responses. Consequently, risk communication is strongly influenced by the characteristics of the risks themselves, the kinds of knowledge on them and related uncertainties, and the psychological and sociocultural factors shaping the cognitive and emotive responses of those engaged in communication. The physical, economic, and cultural contexts also play a large role. The various roles and factors of absent information in integrative environmental and health risk communication are illustrated by two examples. First, health and environmental risks from chemicals represent an intensively studied and widely debated field that involves many types of absent information, ranging from purposeful nondisclosure aimed to guarantee public safety or commercial interests to genuinely unknown risks caused by long-term and cumulative effects of multiple chemicals. Second, light pollution represents an emerging environmental and health issue that has gained only limited public attention even though it is associated with a radical global environmental change that is very easy to observe. In both cases, integrative communication essentially involves a multidimensional comparison of risks, including the uncertainties and benefits associated with them, and the options available to reduce or avoid them. Public debate and reflection on the adequacy of risk information and on the needs and opportunities to gain and apply relevant information is a key issue of risk management. The notion of absent information underlines that even the most widely debated risk issues may fall into oblivion and re-emerge in an altered form or under different framings. A typology of types of absent information based on frameworks of risk communication can help one recognize its reasons, implications, and remediation.

Article

Risk Perception and Its Impacts on Risk Governance  

Ortwin Renn, Andreas Klinke, Pia-Johanna Schweizer, and Ferdiana Hoti

Risk perception is an important component of risk governance, but it cannot and should not determine environmental policies. The reality is that people suffer and even die as a result of false information or perception biases. It is particularly important to be aware of intuitive heuristics and common biases in making inferences from information in a situation where personal or institutional decisions have far-reaching consequences. The gap between risk assessment and risk perception is an important aspect of environmental policy-making. Communicators, risk managers, as well as representatives of the media, stakeholders, and the affected public should be well informed about the results of risk perception and risk response studies. They should be aware of typical patterns of information processing and reasoning when they engage in designing communication programs and risk management measures. At the same time, the potential recipients of information should be cognizant of the major psychological and social mechanisms of perception as a means to avoid painful errors. To reach this goal of mutual enlightenment, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms and processes of how people perceive risks (with emphasis on environmental risks) and how they behave on the basis of their perceptions. Based on the insights from cognitive psychology, social psychology, micro-sociology, and behavioral studies, one can distill some basic lessons for risk governance that reflect universal characteristics of perception and that can be taken for granted in many different cultures and risk contexts. This task of mutual enlightenment on the basis of evidence-based research and investigations is constrained by complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity in describing, assessing, and analyzing risks, in particular environmental risks. The idea that the “truth” needs to be framed in a way that the targeted audience understands the message is far too simple. In a stochastic and nonlinear understanding of (environmental) risk there are always several (scientifically) legitimate ways of representing scientific insights and causal inferences. Much knowledge in risk and disaster assessment is based on incomplete models, simplified simulations, and expert judgments with a high degree of uncertainty and ambiguity. The juxtaposition of scientific truth, on one hand, and erroneous risk perception, on the other hand, does not reflect the real situation and lends itself to a vision of expertocracy that is neither functionally correct nor democratically justified. The main challenge is to initiate a dialogue that incorporates the limits and uncertainties of scientific knowledge and also starts a learning process by which obvious misperceptions are corrected and the legitimate corridor of interpretation is jointly defined. In essence, expert opinion and lay perception need to be perceived as complementing rather than competing with each other. The very essence of responsible action is to make viable and morally justified decisions in the face of uncertainty based on a range of scientifically legitimate expert assessments. These assessments have to be embedded into the context of criteria for acceptable risks, trade-offs between risks to humans and ecosystems, equitable risk and benefit distribution, and precautionary measures. These criteria most precisely reflect the main concerns revealed by empirical studies on risk perception. Political decision-makers are therefore well advised to collect both ethically justifiable evaluation criteria and standards and the best available systematic knowledge that inform us about the performance of each risk source or disaster-reduction option according to criteria that have been identified and approved in a legitimate due process. Ultimately, decisions on acceptable risks have to be based on a subjective mix of factual evidence, attitudes toward uncertainties, and moral standards.

Article

Hydrodynamic Modeling of Urban Flood Flows and Disaster Risk Reduction  

Brett F. Sanders

Communities facing urban flood risk have access to powerful flood simulation software for use in disaster-risk-reduction (DRR) initiatives. However, recent research has shown that flood risk continues to escalate globally, despite an increase in the primary outcome of flood simulation: increased knowledge. Thus, a key issue with the utilization of urban flood models is not necessarily development of new knowledge about flooding, but rather the achievement of more socially robust and context-sensitive knowledge production capable of converting knowledge into action. There are early indications that this can be accomplished when an urban flood model is used as a tool to bring together local lay and scientific expertise around local priorities and perceptions, and to advance improved, target-oriented methods of flood risk communication. The success of urban flood models as a facilitating agent for knowledge coproduction will depend on whether they are trusted by both the scientific and local expert, and to this end, whether the model constitutes an accurate approximation of flood dynamics is a key issue. This is not a sufficient condition for knowledge coproduction, but it is a necessary one. For example, trust can easily be eroded at the local level by disagreements among scientists about what constitutes an accurate approximation. Motivated by the need for confidence in urban flood models, and the wide variety of models available to users, this article reviews progress in urban flood model development over three eras: (1) the era of theory, when the foundation of urban flood models was established using fluid mechanics principles and considerable attention focused on development of computational methods for solving the one- and two-dimensional equations governing flood flows; (2) the era of data, which took form in the 2000s, and has motivated a reexamination of urban flood model design in response to the transformation from a data-poor to a data-rich modeling environment; and (3) the era of disaster risk reduction, whereby modeling tools are put in the hands of communities facing flood risk and are used to codevelop flood risk knowledge and transform knowledge to action. The article aims to inform decision makers and policy makers regarding the match between model selection and decision points, to orient the engineering community to the varied decision-making and policy needs that arise in the context of DRR activities, to highlight the opportunities and pitfalls associated with alternative urban flood modeling techniques, and to frame areas for future research.

Article

Diversity in Audiences  

Julia Metag and Kira Klinger

Examining risk communication is important in determining how audiences perceive, understand, and ultimately respond to natural hazards and their causes as well as the (political) measures that are implemented to prevent them. The audience, however, should not be conceptualized as a uniform and homogeneous mass but, rather, as comprising distinct groups that differ in their perceptions of natural hazards, their attitudes toward risk, their knowledge and information behavior, as well as their behavior with regard to preparing for and acting during and after a natural hazard. Conceptualizing audiences in this way accounts for pluralization and fragmentation tendencies on a societal level. The diversity of audiences has led to segmentation analyses becoming a prominent approach in understanding audiences in social and behavioral sciences. An audience segment is identified by the shared characteristics of a specific group within a broader audience. From a risk communication perspective, acknowledging audience diversity and studying different audience segments allows for tailored risk communication regarding natural hazards. These segments can differ depending on which issue is concerned, and this can also change over time. When conducting audience segmentation analyses, researchers must choose between different types of segmentation analyses (e.g., a priori vs. post hoc analyses or psychographic vs. behavioral analyses), which kind of variables they select to base their segmentation on, which audience or population is under study, and which methodological (e.g., quantitative vs. qualitative methods) and analytical approach they apply. There are some audience segmentation studies directly dedicated to natural hazards which show that there are diverse audience groups differing in their awareness of the risks of natural hazards and their information behavior and needs. These studies reveal that examining diverse audiences based on segmentation can be beneficial in tailoring communication activities, engaging specific—particularly vulnerable—groups, and improving community participation. Regarding challenges, it remains questionable to what extent skeptical groups can be reached, even if they are identified through segmentation analysis, and whether separate segment-specific communication could come at the expense of building a social consensus. Nonetheless, target group–specific communication allows campaigners to foster dialogue regarding risks and natural hazards by enabling them to persuade many members of society to join the dialogue and use the segments’ preferred communication strategies in terms of channels, tone, and content.

Article

Climate Change Adaptation  

Philipp Schmidt-Thomé

Climate change adaptation is the ability of a society or a natural system to adjust to the (changing) conditions that support life in a certain climate region, including weather extremes in that region. The current discussion on climate change adaptation began in the 1990s, with the publication of the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since the beginning of the 21st century, most countries, and many regions and municipalities have started to develop and implement climate change adaptation strategies and plans. But since the implementation of adaptation measures must be planned and conducted at the local level, a major challenge is to actually implement adaptation to climate change in practice. One challenge is that scientific results are mainly published on international or national levels, and political guidelines are written at transnational (e.g., European Union), national, or regional levels—these scientific results must be downscaled, interpreted, and adapted to local municipal or community levels. Needless to say, the challenges for implementation are also rooted in a large number of uncertainties, from long time spans to matters of scale, as well as in economic, political, and social interests. From a human perspective, climate change impacts occur rather slowly, while local decision makers are engaged with daily business over much shorter time spans. Among the obstacles to implementing adaptation measures to climate change are three major groups of uncertainties: (a) the uncertainties surrounding the development of our future climate, which include the exact climate sensitivity of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the reliability of emission scenarios and underlying storylines, and inherent uncertainties in climate models; (b) uncertainties about anthropogenically induced climate change impacts (e.g., long-term sea level changes, changing weather patterns, and extreme events); and (c) uncertainties about the future development of socioeconomic and political structures as well as legislative frameworks. Besides slow changes, such as changing sea levels and vegetation zones, extreme events (natural hazards) are a factor of major importance. Many societies and their socioeconomic systems are not properly adapted to their current climate zones (e.g., intensive agriculture in dry zones) or to extreme events (e.g., housing built in flood-prone areas). Adaptation measures can be successful only by gaining common societal agreement on their necessity and overall benefit. Ideally, climate change adaptation measures are combined with disaster risk reduction measures to enhance resilience on short, medium, and long time scales. The role of uncertainties and time horizons is addressed by developing climate change adaptation measures on community level and in close cooperation with local actors and stakeholders, focusing on strengthening resilience by addressing current and emerging vulnerability patterns. Successful adaptation measures are usually achieved by developing “no-regret” measures, in other words—measures that have at least one function of immediate social and/or economic benefit as well as long-term, future benefits. To identify socially acceptable and financially viable adaptation measures successfully, it is useful to employ participatory tools that give all involved parties and decision makers the possibility to engage in the process of identifying adaptation measures that best fit collective needs.

Article

Managing Vulnerability During Cascading Disasters: Language Access Services  

Federico Marco Federici

Communication underpins all phases of disaster risk reduction: it is at the heart of risk mitigation, by increasing resilience and preparedness, and by interacting with affected communities in the response phase and throughout the reconstruction and recovery after a disaster. Communication does not alter the scope or severity of a disaster triggered by natural hazards, but the extent to which risk reduction strategies impact on affected regions depends greatly on existing differences inherent in the society of these regions. Ethnic minorities and multilingual language groups―which are not always one and the same―may become vulnerable groups when there has been little or no planning or no awareness of the impact of limited access to trustworthy information when the disaster strikes. Furthermore, large-scale disasters are likely to involve personnel from the humanitarian sector from both local and international offices. Communication in most large-scale events has progressively become multilingual; from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it is expected that large disasters see collaboration between intergovernmental, governmental, local, national, and international entities that operate in different ways in rescue and relief operations. Regardless of linguistic contexts, communication of reliable information in a trustworthy manner is complex to achieve in the aftermath of a disaster, which may instantaneously affect telecommunication infrastructures (overloading VOIP and GPS systems). From coordination to information, clear communication plays a role in any activity intending to reduce risks, damages, morbidity, and mortality. Achieving clear communication in crisis management is a feat in a monolingual context: people from different organizations and with different capacities in multi-agency operations have at least a common language, nonetheless, terminology varies from one organization to another, thus hampering successful communication. Achieving effective and clear communication with multilingual communities, while using one language (or lingua franca), such as English, Arabic, Spanish, or Hindi, depending on the region, is impossible without due consideration to language translation.

Article

Social-Ecological Approaches to Health and Risk Messaging  

Kirsty Williamson

Before health and risk messaging can have the best possible effect, there needs to be an understanding of what might influence health and associated risky behaviors. A wide range of elements needs to be considered, given the many possible influences on health habits and risky exposures. Since “ecology” is defined as the relationship between organisms and their environments, ecological models enable this consideration to be made. As a result ecological approaches have been widely used in health behavior, health planning, and health education. Ecological theory, with a communication focus, has also been developed, emerging specifically from the field of “information behavior.” Grounded in the work of Bronfenbrenner, on the experimental ecology of human development, the theory grew out of a study of older adults’ information and communication needs and uses, undertaken in the 1990s. The ecological model, as developed, enabled a wide range of personal and social influences on information seeking and communication to be explored with people aged 60 and older. Analysis of the impact of multilevel factors is facilitated by an ecological approach, increasing its value for the task of designing the content of health and risk messages. The “how” of designing health messaging is not addressed specifically by this approach. Following the study of older adults, the ecological model was broadened, modified, and applied to the study of the information and communication behavior of different community groups, involving a range of topics. The flexibility of the approach is a key strength. A study of information seeking, by women with breast cancer, indicated that several “ecological” elements, such as age, ethnicity, and stage of disease, played a part in the type of information sought and in preferences for how information was communicated. Health and risk avoidance implications emerged from a study of information seeking for online investment, providing another good example of the ways in which the model can be adapted. A range of ecological factors were shown to influence investing behavior, including level of risk taking. A study of people in the Fourth Age (the last stage of life) resulted in a further refined and extended model, as well as making a contribution to the already substantial body of accumulated gerontological knowledge.

Article

Wildfire Communication and Climate Risk Mitigation  

Robyn S. Wilson, Sarah M. McCaffrey, and Eric Toman

Throughout the late 19th century and most of the 20th century, risks associated with wildfire were addressed by suppressing fires as quickly as possible. However, by the 1960s, it became clear that fire exclusion policies were having adverse effects on ecological health, as well as contributing to larger and more damaging wildfires over time. Although federal fire policy has changed to allow fire to be used as a management tool on the landscape, this change has been slow to take place, while the number of people living in high-risk wildland–urban interface communities continues to increase. Under a variety of climate scenarios, in particular for states in the western United States, it is expected that the frequency and severity of fires will continue to increase, posing even greater risks to local communities and regional economies. Resource managers and public safety officials are increasingly aware of the need for strategic communication to both encourage appropriate risk mitigation behavior at the household level, as well as build continued public support for the use of fire as a management tool aimed at reducing future wildfire risk. Household decision making encompasses both proactively engaging in risk mitigation activities on private property, as well as taking appropriate action during a wildfire event to protect personal safety. Very little research has directly explored the connection between climate-related beliefs, wildfire risk perception, and action; however, the limited existing research suggests that climate-related beliefs have little direct effect on wildfire-related action. Instead, action appears to depend on understanding the benefits of different mitigation actions and in engaging the public in interactive, participatory communication programs that build trust between the public and natural resource managers. A relatively new line of research focuses on resource managers as critical decision makers in the risk management process, pointing to the need to thoughtfully engage audiences other than the lay public to improve risk management. Ultimately, improving the decision making of both the public and managers charged with mitigating the risks associated with wildfire can be achieved by carefully addressing several common themes from the literature. These themes are to (1) promote increased efficacy through interactive learning, (2) build trust and capacity through social interaction, (3) account for behavioral constraints and barriers to action, and (4) facilitate thoughtful consideration of risk-benefit tradeoffs. Careful attention to these challenges will improve the likelihood of successfully managing the increasing risks that wildfire poses to the public and ecosystems alike in a changing climate.

Article

Fatalism, Causal Reasoning, and Natural Hazards  

John McClure

Fatalism about natural disasters hinders action to prepare for those disasters, and overcoming this fatalism is one key element to preparing people for these disasters. Research by Bostrom and colleagues shows that failure to act often reflects gaps and misconceptions in citizen’s mental models of disasters. Research by McClure and colleagues shows that fatalistic attitudes reflect people’s attributing damage to uncontrollable natural causes rather than controllable human actions, such as preparation. Research shows which precise features of risk communications lead people to see damage as preventable and to attribute damage to controllable human actions. Messages that enhance the accuracy of mental models of disasters by including human factors recognized by experts lead to increased preparedness. Effective messages also communicate that major damage in disasters is often distinctive and reflects controllable causes. These messages underpin causal judgments that reduce fatalism and enhance preparation. Many of these messages are not only beneficial but also newsworthy. Messages that are logically equivalent but are differently framed have varying effects on risk judgments and preparedness. The causes of harm in disasters are often contested, because they often imply human responsibility for the outcomes and entail significant cost.

Article

Theory of Mind and Communication in Health and Risk Messaging  

M. Jeffrey Farrar, Yao Guan, and Kaitlyn Erhardt

Humans live not only in a physical world but also in a mental world. Theory of mind reflects the understanding that the mind is comprised of different mental states, such as intentions, desires, and beliefs. This conception of the mind is a critical achievement in human development because it directly impacts effective communication and social interaction. It allows for the understanding of others’ behaviors by inferring their mental states. The formation of a theory of mind has been a central topic in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. It impacts related processes, such as communication skills, perspective-taking ability, and social cognition. Across the life span, the understanding of the mind becomes increasingly complex. Early in development, infants and toddlers can discern the intentions of others. Later, more sophisticated reasoning about the mental states of others becomes possible. For instance, the ability to follow and understand the recursive thought that “Sam believes, that Mary said, that Jose wanted . . .” develops. Additionally, within distinctive developmental time periods, people differ in their ability to take into account mental states. Once people’s beliefs, including their misconceptions, are identified, it is possible to generate effective communication strategies designed to teach, learn, and even reduce risk-taking behaviors.

Article

Agenda Setting in Health and Risk Messaging  

Karyn Ogata Jones

Since McCombs and Shaw first introduced the theory in 1972, agenda setting has emerged as one of the most influential perspectives in the study of the effects of mass media. Broadly defined, “agenda setting” refers to the ability of mass media sources to identify the most salient topics, thereby “setting the agendas” for audiences. In telling us what to think about, then, mass media sources are perceived to play an influential role in determining priorities related to policies, values, and knowledge on a given topic or issue. Scholars have studied this phenomenon according to both object (issue) salience and attribute salience and along aggregate and individual audience responses. The audience characteristics of need for orientation, uncertainty, relevance, and involvement are advanced as moderating and predicting agenda-setting effects. When agenda-setting theory is applied to the study of messaging related to health and risk communication, scholars have reviewed and identified common themes and topics that generally include media’s role in educating and informing the public about specific health conditions as well as public health priorities and administrative policies. Agenda setting is often examined in terms of measuring mass media effects on audiences. Looking at interpersonal communication, such as that coming from medical providers, opinion leaders, or peer networks, in studies will allow research to examine the combined effects of interpersonal and mass communication. Testing possible interactions among differing sources of information along with assessment of issue and attribute salience among audiences according to an agenda-setting framework serves to document audience trends and lived experiences with regard to mass media, health, and risk communication.

Article

Queer Safer Sex Communication  

Kami Kosenko

Although communication scholars have been exploring the role of partner communication in sexual health promotion since the 1960s, the term safer sex, and its corollary safer sex communication, emerged in the late 1980s in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was and still is disproportionately affecting queer individuals. Numerous studies, along with some meta-analyses, point to the protective potential of safer sex discussions, defined here as the communicative management of health concerns with sex partners. Despite scholarly agreement regarding its importance, the term safer sex communication has received little explication, and much of what is known about it comes from studies with predominantly heterosexual samples. A review of the literature on queer safer sex communication points to some key issues related to age, race, trauma history, place, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and suggests important considerations for future research efforts.

Article

Blogging, Microblogging, and Exposure to Health and Risk Messages  

Stephen A. Rains

The widespread diffusion of social media in recent years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for health and risk communication. Blogs and microblogs are specific forms of social media that appear to be particularly important. Blogs are webpages authored by an individual or group in which entries are published in reverse chronological order; microblogs are largely similar, but limited in the total number of characters that may be published per entry. Researchers have begun exploring the use and consequences of blogs and microblogs among individuals coping with illness as well as for health promotion. Much of this work has focused on better understanding people’s motivations for blogging about illness and the content of illness blogs. Coping with the challenges of illness and connecting with others are two primary motivations for authoring an illness blog, and blogs typically address medical issues (e.g., treatment options) and the author’s thoughts and feelings about experiencing illness. Although less prevalent, there is also evidence that illness blogging can be a resource for social support and facilitate coping efforts. Researchers studying the implications of blogs and microblogs for health promotion and risk communication have tended to focus on the use of these technologies by health professionals and for medical surveillance. Medical professionals appear to compose a noteworthy proportion of all health bloggers. Moreover, blogs and microblogs have been shown to serve a range of surveillance functions. In addition to being used to follow illness outbreaks in real-time, blogs and microblogs have offered a means for understanding public perceptions of health and risk-related issues including medical controversies. Taken as whole, contemporary research on health blogs and microblogs underscores the varied and important functions of these forms of social media for health and risk communication.