Quality & Quantity 34: 407–418, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The Methodology of Risk Perception Research
Center for Risk Research, Stockholm School of Economics, Box 6501, 113 83 Stockholm, Sweden
Abstract. Risk perception is not strictly a matter of sensory perception, but of attitudes and expect-
ations. As such, it can be studied by reasonably well developed methods of attitude measurement
and psychological scaling. Such measurement needs to be applied in a pragmatic fashion, however,
since the discussions of fundamental measurement and requirements of scale levels appropriate for
various types of statistical analysis has failed in establishing a useful basis for empirical research.
The paper also discuses sampling procedures and the response rate problem. In risk perception work,
there is usually a bias involving too many respondents with an above average level of education, but
that variable tends to be weakly related to risk perception variables. Finally, post-modern claims and
their rejection of quantitative methods are critically discussed.
Key words: risk perception, research methods, measurement, attitudes.
Risk perception is frequently held to be crucial in the understanding and manage-
ment of risk in policy contexts (Sjöberg, 1987b). Conﬂicting views about risks
constitute a social and political problem of considerable magnitude in many con-
texts (Sjöberg, 1980, 1998a). Furthermore, implied life values in various policy and
regulatory decisions have been found to vary enormously (Morrall, 1986; Rams-
berg & Sjöberg, 1997), and although the reasons behind such variation are only
partly understood, risk perception does appear to be one important factor (Rams-
berg & Sjöberg, 1998). Perceived risk, in turn, is surely not merely a function of
probability of harm but many other factors, such as attitudes, enter (Sjöberg, 1996,
The present paper takes as a starting point the notion that risk perception, of
the public, of experts and other special groups, is important and hence the question
arises how it should be investigated. We have here a question which may seem
This is a study within CEC project RISKPERCOM (Contract FI4PCT950016), supported also
by the Swedish Council for Planning and Coordination of Research (FRN), the Swedish Council for
Humanistic and Social Science Research (HSFR), the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI),
and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute (SSI)