Mental models and social representations of hazards: the significance of identity processes

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This article examines the social influence processes that underpin the development of individual mental models of hazards and analyses the role that identity processes play in determining the nature and plasticity of the representations of risk that an individual will employ. It outlines the nature of the mental models approach (Morgan, Fischhoff, Bostrom and Atman, in press) to developing interventions in risk communication. It describes how social representations theory (Moscovici, 1988) can be used to account for the genesis and maintenance of a mental model of a hazard. In doing so, it is argued that mental models of hazards are social constructions, serving identifiable social purposes for the subculture in which they are elaborated, and that they are generally shared by the members of that subculture. However, within a group or subculture, there will be some individual variation in access to and use of a mental model of a hazard. It is suggested here that these variations are largely predictable on the basis of identity processes (Breakwell, in press). The implications of this analysis for risk communication strategies is explored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-351
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2001


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