Shifting reactions to risks: A case study

Darrick T. Evensen*, Daniel J. Decker, Richard C. Stedman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social science research in the field of risk analysis has emphasised evaluating the magnitude of individuals reactions to risks (e.g. strength and salience of concerns, frequency and forcefulness of behaviours that respond to risks). Fewer studies assess the factors that contribute to risk reactions or the types of risks to which reactions are directed (e.g. human health, wildlife health or ecosystem health risks; economic or aesthetic concerns). Theoretical and empirical research on amplification and attenuation of risk (e.g. the Social Amplification of Risk Framework) reveals that the strength of peoples reaction to risks can change markedly over time, as a function of new stimuli. We expand on this foundation to consider here how the types of risks members of the public react to may also shift over the course of their exposure to a hazard, particularly as more information about the hazard becomes available. This case study of risk reactions related to an outbreak of type E botulism in north-western Michigan, USA, demonstrates that the types of risks people react to can change substantially over time. We identify factors that contributed to changes in types of risk reactions, and then consider how these factors potentially distinguish the botulism outbreak from other outbreaks. This case study suggests that, under certain conditions, risk communication can meaningfully alter the types of risks that people react to in response to an environmental hazard. We discuss implications of these findings for risk research, risk communication and environmental conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-96
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of risk research
Issue number1
Early online date24 Sep 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • behaviours
  • botulism outbreak
  • case study
  • environmental hazard
  • risk communication
  • risk reactions


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