The Social Amplification of Risk: Theoretical Foundations and Empirical Applications
The social experience of risk is not confined to the technical definition of risk, i.e., the product of probability and magnitude. What human beings perceive as threats to their well-being is influenced by their values, attitudes, social influences, and cultural identity. This article introduces the framework of social amplification of risk, which integrates the technical assessment and the social experience of risk. This viewpoint proposes that events pertaining to hazards interact with psychological, social, institutional, and cultural processes in ways that can heighten or attenuate individual and social perceptions of risk and shape risk behavior. An empirical study investigated the functional relationships among five sets of variables that enter into the amplification process: physical consequences, the amount of press coverage, individual layperson perceptions, public responses, and the socioeconomic and political impacts. It found that perceptions and social responses are more strongly related to exposure to risk than to its magnitude.