Perceived Characteristics of Environmental Hazards

November 1994 (VOL. 12, NO. 3)

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This study examined beliefs about three environmental hazards: volcanic eruption, release of toxic gas, and release of radioactive materials held by risk area residents and nonrisk area residents. Analysis of responses within four categories, characteristics of the hazard agent, characteristics of the impact, perceived personal consequences and affective reactions to the hazard, showed the two groups to have qualitatively similar response profiles, although the risk area residents tended to perceive all three hazards as less threatening than did the nonrisk area residents. Both groups showed statistically significant tendencies to use these dimensions in differentiating among the hazards. The data suggest dread of a hazard is more strongly related to the probability of severe personal consequences than to the probability of a major event. Perceived characteristics of the impact appear to mediate the relationship between the event and personal consequences, while the latter evokes thought about the hazard and discussion of it with others.