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Risk Perceptions

Isaac M. Lipkus


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One definition of risk communication is “communication with individuals (not necessarily face-to-face) that addresses knowledge, perceptions, attitudes, and behavior related to risk” ( Edwards & Bastian 2001 , 147). In the public health arena, we often hear about the dangers of poor lifestyle habits (e.g., smoking, drinking, not exercising, failure to vaccinate or screen for cancer) or how to engage in preventive health behaviors (e.g., taking aspirin to prevent heart disease). Often, the media, health providers, and even our family and friends craft persuasive communications designed to inform us about our risk of disease or other bad outcomes. The basic idea behind these messages, and consistent with many theoretical models of behavior change, is that increasing a person's sense that something bad can happen to them, that is, perceived risk, will motivate behavior change to either prevent or diminish the threat. Thus, perceptions of risk entail not only the perceived probabilities of an event occurring – or not – but the negative consequences as well; negative consequences can encompass the physical, social, psychological, and economic realms (→  Health Communication ; Persuasion ; Persuasion and Resistance ). “Risk” is a difficult concept to convey and one that is poorly understood by the public. A comprehensive understanding of risk that can guide informed decisions requires ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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