Attention increases environmental risk perception

Kellen Mrkva, Jennifer C. Cole, Leaf Van Boven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (SciVal)


The authors suggest that mere attention increases the perceived severity of environmental risks because attention increases the fear and distinctiveness of attended risks. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were exposed to images of multiple environmental risks, with attention repeatedly oriented to a subset of these risks. Participants subsequently perceived attended risks to be more severe, more frightening, higher priority, and more distinctive than control risks. In Experiments 3 and 4, spatial cueing manipulations were used to briefly draw attention toward some risks and away from others. In Experiment 3, a briefly flashed rectangle drew attention toward one side of a computer screen just before 2 images depicting different risks appeared: 1 image near to where the rectangle appeared and 1 further away. In Experiment 4, incidental attention was cued toward some risks by giving participants an unrelated letter search task that required them to briefly attend near that location. Participants in Experiments 3 and 4 selected cued (attended) risks as more severe, distinctive, and frightening than noncued risks. Across experiments, serial mediation analyses indicated that the effect of the attention manipulation on severity was mediated by the effect of attention on fear which was mediated by distinctiveness. Across experiments, we equated duration of exposure to risks and sought to minimize demand characteristics. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-102
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2021


  • attention
  • emotion
  • environmental risk
  • judgment
  • risk perception
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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