Effects of generalization descriptions on risk perception

Publication Name

Environmental Research


The study addresses the effects of generalization descriptions on risk perceptions. In a 1-factorial online experiment, 629 participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups. Group G1 received an excerpt of an original press release from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regarding mobile phones and cancer, classifying RF EMF as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Group G2 received an additional explanatory text module, and Group G3 received a rewritten text, with both G2 and G3 highlighting that the possible cancer risk only refers to mobile phones. Risk perceptions regarding cell phones and related personal devices, base stations, and high voltage power lines were used as dependent variables measured before and after text reading. Further, the degree to which participants generalized from cell phone-related to other RF EMF exposures was assessed to determine whether this was predictive of their post-text risk perceptions. Regarding risk perceptions, no differences between the three groups were observed after reading the presented texts. Instead, all three experimental groups indicated increased risk perceptions for all electromagnetic field sources. However, we found significant differences according to the prevailing risk generalization belief. Respondents expressing a strong risk generalization belief showed significantly higher risk perceptions for all tested EMF sources (except mobile phones) than subjects with a weak risk generalization belief.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Article Number


Funding Number

APP 1060205

Funding Sponsor

International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks



Link to publisher version (DOI)