First National Risk & Culture Study

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Project members conducted an 1800-person national survey that found that cultural worldviews better predicted perceptions of various risks than did any other individual characteristic.

The National Culture and Risk Survey investigated the existence of cultural cognition on a large scale and for a wide array of different risks.  The sample consisted of 1800 persons contacted (by random digit dial) to participate in 25-30 minute interview.  The subjects’ cultural worldviews were measured with scales (developed after an extensive process of focus group discussions and pretesting) that reflect two distinct dimensions of social organization: “hierarchy-egalitarianism,” and “individualism-solidarism.” Results of the study confirmed that these two dimensions more strongly predicted individuals perceptions of various risks than any other individual characteristic, including their gender, their race, their income, their education level, their personality type, and their political affiliations.

More specific findings included:

  • Persons of egalitarian and solidaristic orientations worry more about the risk of gun accidents and crime in a world with too little gun control, while those of hierarchical and individualistic orientations worry more about the risk of being rendered defenseless in a world with too much gun control.
  • Persons of egalitarian and solidaristic orientations are more concerned about environmental risks — including global warming — than are individuals of hierarchical and individualistic orientations, who are more concerned about the damage that excessive environmental regulation can cause the economy.
  • Persons of a hierarchical worldview perceive that abortion is a dangerous medical procedure for women, whereas persons of egalitarian and individualistic worldviews perceive that abortion is relatively safe.
  • Persons of a hierarchical worldview also perceive that using street drugs and obtaining surgery from a doctor infected with HIV are more risky than do persons of egalitarian, solidaristic, or individualistic worldviews.
  • Gender differences in risk perception derive from differences in cultural worldviews: hierarchical men, for example, worry much less about environmental  than hierarchical women about enviromental risks, and individualistic men much less about gun risks than individualistic women, whereas among egalitarians and solidarists, men and women similar views; once these culture-speific effects are taken into account, the so called “white male effect” in risk perception disappears.

Various papers discussing these results are now either scheduled for publication or are under publication review.  Project members are also conducting follow-up experimental and ethnographic studies aimed at corroborating and extending the Survey findings.

Related: Second National Risk & Culture Study

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