Risk: from perception to social representation

Br J Soc Psychol. 2003 Mar;42(Pt 1):55-73. doi: 10.1348/014466603763276126.


This paper is concerned with how people make meaning of the risks they face. It explores certain assumptions of the risk perception approaches, which dominate the area. It argues that despite changes currently taking place in the field, such models still focus on static, intrapersonal processes, with many viewing human thinking as analogous to erroneous information processing. In the place of an individual 'deficit' focus, the paper proposes a more intersubjective theory of the response to risk. Social representations theory is evaluated and its validity assessed by highlighting empirical work on representations of biotechnological and health risks. The review reveals that the response to risk is a highly social, emotive and symbolic entity. Therefore a theory and methods appropriate to such qualities are proposed, to produce a valid psychology of risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Personal Construct Theory
  • Psychology, Social
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Social Perception*
  • Symbolism