Failure to Connect
Frequently, people have difficulty recognizing—in a balanced way—the likelihood of consequences of potential stressors or impacts they may be exposed to. This is particularly true when the potential stressors or impacts exist in the personal homelife or worklife of exposed individuals.
Witness the phenomenon, reported by Lindell and Earle (2006), that ". . . [p]ublic opinion poll data have consistently shown that the proportion of respondents who are willing to have a nuclear power plant in their own community is smaller than the proportion who agree that more nuclear plants should be built in this country." Slovic (1987) is an early investigator of such phenomena.
Another good example of circumstances where this phenomenon can be observed would be a town with two industries. Let's say one is a nuclear power plant and the other is an oil refinery. Workforces are divided relatively evenly between the enterprises. Now, let's say a survey is made of the town's two workforces—nuclear and refining—asking of each workforce whether they believe their own work involves significant risks to their health, and whether the work of the other workforce involves significant risks health. Somewhat surprizingly, nuclear workers tend to believe that refinery work involves significantly more risk than nuclear; and refinery workers tend to believe that nuclear work involves significantly more risk than refinery work.
What is the basis for this disconnect?
Michael K. Lindell and Timothy C. Earle. 2006. How Close Is Close Enough: Public Perceptions of the Risks of Industrial Facilities. Risk Analysis 3(4): 245-253.
Paul Slovic. 1987. Perception of risk. Science 236(4799): 280-285.
J-T. Liu and J. K. Hammitt. 1999. Perceived risk and value of workplace safety in a developing country. Journal of Risk Research 2(3): 263-275.