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Navigating global risks through cultural lenses

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Dr Janet Geipel and researchers from the University of Exeter will use the Poll data to explore the influence of ‘cultural tightness’ on people’s risk perceptions in relation to environmental, financial, and health-related threats.

£2 million £2 million

total investment by Lloyd's Register Foundation in 2023 into projects to put the World Risk Poll into action.

What problem is your project aiming to address?

Our project aims to establish how national differences in what is known as ‘cultural tightness’ or ‘looseness’ – essentially, how strictly people adhere to and enforce social norms –influence risk perceptions in relation to different threats to safety.

For instance, Singapore, which has strict laws and fines against littering, is considered a relatively tight culture, while the Netherlands, with its liberal attitudes towards personal freedoms, is seen as a relatively loose one. Tighter cultures might worry more about safety threats than looser cultures because historically they experienced more of them. Alternatively, they might worry less because they managed threats more effectively.

We will test these theories using the World Risk Poll data. In addition, we will experimentally test how cultural tightness or looseness influences the effectiveness of communication interventions. These interventions will include informing people about relevant others’ behaviour and the consequences of inaction. Our goal is to improve risk mitigating behaviours, such as purchasing insurance to mitigate the impact of extreme weather or reducing household water consumption to address water shortages.

Understanding how cultural tightness influences risk perception and the effectiveness of communication interventions will improve public knowledge of risk, inform culture-specific interventions, and ultimately enhance public safety worldwide.

How are you going to go about this?

We will examine how cultural tightness or looseness in 57 different countries influences risk perception across various types of threat using the World Risk Poll data. Specifically, we will conduct statistical analyses in which we will predict risk perception based on both cultural tightness and the specific type of threat, as well as the interaction between culture and threat type. We will use cultural tightness scores from previous research studies that have classified cultures into tight and loose categories.

In the second part of our project, we will follow up on the results by conducting randomized experiments in culturally tighter and culturally looser countries. In these experiments we will test the efficacy of several communication interventions, such as messages that highlight negative social consequences of not taking actions, or messages that describe what other people consider as proper actions, with the goal of promoting risk mitigating behaviour.

The specific type of threat will be chosen based on our findings from the World Risk Poll data. We will compare behavioural change across tight and loose cultures. The findings will improve knowledge about which interventions are most effective in which cultures and provide concrete strategies for improving risk mitigating behaviour and, therefore, enhance safety for all.

Who will this make safer, and how?

This project aims to make the world safer by investigating the influence of cultural tightness or looseness on risk perception and developing effective interventions to promote risk mitigating behaviour. By analysing data from the World Risk Poll, the study will examine risk perception across various types of threat, including environmental, financial, and health risks. The research will shed light on how cultural tightness relates to risk perception and how this relationship is influenced by the type of threat.

The findings from this study will improve knowledge on risk perceptions by untangling the impact of cultural tightness. This understanding is crucial for policymakers and will help them develop effective risk communication strategies by tailoring them to the relevant cultural context. By considering cultural factors, policymakers can enhance the efficacy of risk mitigation efforts and thus increase public safety worldwide.

How does the World Risk Poll data enable this project? What can you do with it that you couldn’t otherwise?

The World Risk Poll data provides a unique opportunity to investigate the relationship between cultural tightness and risk perception. 

 

It contains risk perception data from almost 150 countries across different types of threat including environmental, health, and financial. With previous research providing cultural tightness values for 57 of these countries, we will cross-reference the World Risk Poll data to examine how cultural tightness influences risk perception across different threats.

By analysing the World Risk Poll data, we can address the inconsistent findings in previous research regarding the relationship between cultural tightness and behaviour. For example, although previous research has shown that tighter cultures had fewer Covid-19 cases and deaths, no such relationship was observed in relation to pro-environmental behaviour. The World Risk Poll data provides a unique opportunity to systematically investigate this as it includes a variety of threat types, including health and environmental.

Who do you want to talk to, to enhance the impact of this project?

We aim to engage with researchers, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and government officials working on improving public safety and risk management. We aim to inform their work in developing effective risk communication strategies that are tailored to specific cultures. This will help to manage and mitigate global threats in areas such as climate change, health, and violence.

We encourage organizations who aim to improve public safety and risk management to get in touch with our team to discuss how our findings can contribute to their policymaking process, to discuss potential collaborations, share resources, and explore ways of using our research findings to implement culture-tailored interventions.

To find out more about this project, get in touch with the project team at [email protected] or [email protected]