Risk perception and emergency experience: comparing a representative German sample with German emergency survivors

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Knuth, D. ; Kehl, D. ; Hulse, L. ; Spangenberg, L. ; Brähler, E. ; Schmidt, S. (2015)

People’s perception of risk and its influencing factors has become an important element of research in past decades. The present paper investigated the influence of emergency experiences on risk perception and the impact of experience and gender on the accuracy of risk perception. A representative sample of the German population was subdivided into a general survivor group who had experienced at least one emergency previously (N = 165) and a general public group with no prior emergency experiences (N = 2248), which were compared to a German sample of survivors from the EU-funded Behavior, Security, and Culture (BeSeCu) international study of human behavior in emergency situations and evacuations (N = 201). The perceived risk of different emergencies – including larger-scale events like floods and other important but often overlooked events like domestic fires – was assessed with a questionnaire. Objective risk was also calculated for different emergencies and compared to the risk perceptions of each group to provide a measure of accuracy. The results of this study showed that emergency experiences increase perceived risk, for the experienced event in particular, and this outcome was evident regardless of whether the event was a large-scale one like a natural disaster or a smaller-scale one like a fire in one’s home. Additional data from the BeSeCu survivors identified several pre-, peri-, and post-event factors that might have influenced this outcome. Further results included the finding that gender is an important factor that moderates the accuracy of risk estimations but researchers should be mindful that the presence and pattern of any gender difference in perceived risk accuracy may vary across different types of event. Possible reasons and implications of the results are discussed.
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