An implicit assumption of risk perception studies is that concerns expressed in questionnaires reflect concerns in everyday life. The aim of the present study is to check this assumption, i.e., the extrapolability of risk perceptions expressed in a survey, to risk perceptions in everyday life. To that end, risk perceptions were measured by a multidimensional approach. In addition to the traditional focus on measuring the magnitude of risk perceptions, the thematic relevance (how often people think about a risk issue) and the discursive relevance (how often people think about or discuss a risk issue) of risk perceptions were also collected. Taking into account this extended view of risk perception, an online survey was conducted in six European countries with 2454 respondents, referring to radio frequency electromagnetic field (RF EMF) risk potentials from base stations, and access points, such as WiFi routers and cell phones. The findings reveal that the present study's multidimensional approach to measuring risk perception provides a more differentiated understanding of RF EMF risk perception. High levels of concerns expressed in questionnaires do not automatically imply that these concerns are thematically relevant in everyday life. We use thematic relevance to distinguish between enduringly concerned (high concern according to both questionnaire and thematic relevance) and not enduringly concerned participants (high concern according to questionnaire but no thematic relevance). Furthermore, we provide data for the empirical value of this distinction: Compared to other participants, enduringly concerned subjects consider radio frequency electromagnetic field exposure to a greater extent as a moral and affective issue. They also see themselves as highly exposed to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. However, despite these differences, subjects with high levels of thematic relevance are nevertheless sensitive to exposure reduction as a means for improving the acceptance of base stations in their neighborhood. This underlines the value of exposure reduction for the acceptance of radio frequency electromagnetic field communication technologies.
Keywords: RF EMF; base stations; exposure perception; mobile phones; questionnaire design; risk communication; risk perception; survey methodology; thematic relevance.