Risk communication: identifying the importance of social context1
This editorial uses articles published in recent issues of Health, Risk and Society to critically review current approaches to risk communication. The effective communication of risk forms a key component of public health measures designed to improve the health of populations in countries such as the UK. These approaches assume that the recipients of the risk information are rational actors who will use the information to minimize their exposure to health hazards, and this will reduce the collective level of harm. However, a recent article in Health, Risk and Society indicated that individuals are not passive recipients of information and do not respond to risk information ?rationally?. Individuals actively engage in looking for and using information but may also make conscious decisions to avoid certain forms of information. Their response to information is shaped by social context, their own needs for personal security and the extent to which they trust the source of specific items of information. As a result, there is little evidence that risk communication based on the rational actor model shapes an understanding or behaviour in ways in which health-policy makers and public health experts want.