The Perception of Risk


Paul Slovic is an American professor of psychology at the university of Oregon. Slovic mainly studies human judgement, decision making and risk perception. He has released a large amount of research papers on the before-mentioned subjects and is considered one of the leading theorists within the risk perception field.

One of Paul Slovic’s most famous publications is “The Perception of Risk”. A publication where he researches and discusses how an individual perceives risk, in regards to extreme events and catastrophes.

The theory

What Slovic found out is that the relations between risk and benefit are never the same, but however based on how the individual perceives the risk. This perception is based on the past experiences that the person might have with such events or catastrophes.

Furthermore his research shows that if you ask people to answer what risks they think should be prioritised, the person will rely on subjective preferences to determine which risks they deem large or small. Thus there is a difference in regards to when a risk is perceived as large or small on an subjective level.

In the book “Perception of Risk”, Paul Slovic adresses two different factors which play in to how a person perceives risk; dread risk and unknown risk.

Dread risk revolves around the factors of which the person is aware of and have knowledge about. The variables within this factor includes fear, controllability, the potential of the catastrophe and fatal consequences. Typically the fear within this factor is the lack of control.

Unknown risk is about new risks which the person have little to no knowledge and awareness of. Examples of this is new technology, invisible risks, non-material risks and non-observable risks. These are typically perceived as a bigger threat than the dread risks for the simple reason that people cannot fathom the risk or consequences of it.

Why is this important?

As risk managers it is important to us that we know which tools and theories are relevant to our field of work. The perception of risk is one of the most important publications and theories in regards to understanding the people you work around on a deeper level. Knowledge of this can help predict and control how an individual will react in a potential crisis situation, but it can also help guide you when assigning roles on a complex project.

For example, by having knowledge of the perception of risk you can be more aware that you shouldn’t assign a person an assignment, if that person has had bad experiences with similar assignments perviously. Furthermore you can as a risk manager create more safe and comfortable working environments for the people around you.

About the author

Gustav Landgreeen-Petersen


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