4 Risk 189 (1993)
Advancing Understanding of Knowledge's Role in Lay Risk Perception

handle is hein.journals/risk4 and id is 199 raw text is: Advancing Understanding
of Knowledge's Role in
Lay Risk Perception*
Branden B. Johnson**
Introduction
In the last two decades, scholars, agencies and firms have become
increasingly interested in why laypeople see something as a threat.
Curiosity, worry over scientific illiteracy, and social conflicts over
potential threats foster the field of risk perception, a misleading but
standard term. Many hope research on lay perception will help resolve
conflicts, a hope that colors the focus and findings of many studies.
Knowledge about hazards plays a central but curious role in risk
perception research. Knowledge is and should be important in risk
perception; if not, humans would have died out long ago. Most people
doing or funding this research know more about specific hazards than
the average citizen. Yet their expertise blinds them to the complexity of
hazard knowledge, and they take the importance of their own
knowledge for granted. For example, most studies have probed only
how knowledge affects lay risk perceptions, ignoring similar questions
- about experts and often dismissing lay concerns. Such pride and over-
simplification have meant missing important aspects of hazard
knowledge.
*  An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American Sociological
Association meeting in Pittsburgh, Aug. 1992. That version was made available
through the Sociological Abstracts Delivery Service (for an abstract, see SA accession
number 92S26088). This version benefited from comments by an anonymous
reviewer. The views in this work are those of the author and do not necessarily
represent the views of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and
Energy (NJ DEPE).
** Dr. Johnson is a Research Scientist in the Risk Communication Unit NJ DEPE
Division of Science and Research (DSR). He holds a B.A. (Environmental Values and
Behavior) from University of Hawaii, a M.A. (Environmental Affairs) and a Ph.D.
(Geography) from Clark University.

4 RISK - Issues in Health & Safety 189 [Summer 1993]

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