An interesting theory of risk perception and communication is put forward by Kahan (2012) in the context of climate risk.
Kahan et al argue that in belonging to a peer group, going against the common opinion can cost the individual while having little real effect upon the group’s collective opinion. So in the end it is better for individuals to simply shut up when convinced of a contrary opinion rather than attempting to change group behaviour. They call this the ‘tragedy of the risk-perception commons’, which is a tip of the hat to Garret Hardin’s original 1960s work that showed how individuals acting rationally in their own self interest could produce a collective failure.
This is an example of what economists call Games Theory and sociologist call the Theory of Social Situations, in fact Kahan’s example (and Hardin’s original study) can be classified as a variant of the canonical prisoners dilemma. What I find interesting is how the study once again undermines the idea of a perfect and objective risk perception methodology. Risk communication and perception it seems are also subject to competitive forces amongst individuals.
Kahan, D.M, Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L.L., Brahman, D., Mandel, G., The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks, Nature Climate Change (2012) doi:10.1038/nclimate1547, Published online 27 May 2012.