The Cultural Cognition of Risk: Psychological and Social Mechanisms

  • Kahan, Dan M. (PI)
  • Cohen, Geoffrey (CoPI)
  • Slovic, Paul (CoPI)
  • Gastil, John W. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


The 'cultural cognition of risk' refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their beliefs about the magnitude of risks to their culturally grounded moral appraisals of putatively dangerous activities. In a previous study the investigators surveyed a large national sample (N = 1,800) to assess this phenomenon. They found that beliefs about myriad risks--ones involving climate change, firearm possession, drug use, and various medical procedures, among others--are distributed across persons in patterns best explained by cultural cognition. But while this study furnished strong evidence that cultural commitments do indeed shape risk perceptions, the study did not identify precisely why or how culture exerts this influence.

That is the objective of the current study. Using innovative on-line testing methods, the investigators will carry out a series of experiments aimed at uncovering the social and psychological mechanisms through which cultural cognition operates. Among their principal hypotheses is that individuals experience emotional resistance to information that portends interference with activities central to their cultural identities. Another is that individuals impute greater credibility to risk communicators who appear to share their cultural orientations than to those who appear to harbor competing ones. It is expected that the results of the this experimental project will not only deepen scientific understanding of how risk perceptions are formed, but also generate practical insights into how persons of diverse cultural orientations can reach agreement on appropriate policies of risk mitigation.

Effective start/end date9/1/064/30/08


  • National Science Foundation: $282,975.00


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