Public perception of scientific uncertainty in relation to food hazards

S. Miles, L.J. Frewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


The research reported here aims to understand how people react to statements expressing risk uncertainty information in the context of a commonly experienced potential hazard, food related risks. Public perception of seriousness of risk for themselves, and for other people was examined for different types of uncertainty, for each of five different food hazards. The results indicated that participants responded to the different types of uncertainty in a uniform way, suggesting that perception of risk associated with uncertainty is not affected by the 'type' of uncertainty. The results further indicated that the seriousness of risk, in the presence of statements of uncertainty, was perceived to be greater for pesticides and genetic modification compared to BSE, high fat diets and Salmonella. It was argued that this could be due to the perceptions of low personal control, and high societal responsibility to protect people and societal control over exposure to the potential risks of pesticides and genetic modification. Under circumstances where people feel they have little personal control over their exposure to a particular hazard, and those social institutions that are perceived to be in control of protecting the public indicate that there is uncertainty associated with risk estimates, the hazard may appear to be 'out of control', which is associated with a perception of serious risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-283
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • unrealistic optimism
  • risk information
  • personal risk
  • communication
  • interventions

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