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Tijdschrift Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid x Jaar 2010 x
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Het beoordelen van risico’s: een subjectieve zaak

Tijdschrift Tijdschrift voor Veiligheid, Aflevering 1 2010
Trefwoorden Risicoperceptie, Heuristieken, Risicocommunicatie
Auteurs Jop Groeneweg
SamenvattingAuteursinformatie

    In measuring safety a difference appears to exist between ‘objectively measured safety’ and the subjective perception by the public. Objectively spoken the level of criminality in a neighbourhood may have gone down, but that doesn’t necessary mean that the people living there ‘feel equally safer’. Psychology gives a number of explanations for this phenomenon. For example, the knowledge, the differences in thinking styles and communication about safety with citizens play an important role. This should not be seen as a case of non-rational thinking, but rather of systematic irrationality. These people are not ‘dumb’, they have (sometimes hard-wired) ways of handling information about complex issues like safety that require them to take ‘mental shortcuts’ (heuristics) in order to estimate the risks they are exposed to. This paper will focus on some of the psychological laws that guide our risk perception and surprisingly enough, the ‘objective risk’ seems to be of relatively little importance if compared with other, more subjective factors. Many of the factors relate to the nature of information citizens are exposed to: a risk that this described in easy to imagine way leads to a different evaluation of that risk compared with a less conspicuous presentation. Also the level of expertise of the ‘receiving end’ must be taken into account. Lay-people have different ways to look at risks compared with experts in a certain domain. The discussion on how to improve safety is probably best served with a continuing debate between ‘rational, objective’ and ‘systematic irrational, subjective’ mental models, while recognising their respective strengths and weaknesses. These findings may assist policy makers in particular in the formulation of policy that, in addition to the security objective as such, also improves the perception of safety.


Jop Groeneweg
Jop Groeneweg is Projectleider Menselijk falen bij de Werkgroep Veiligheid, Universiteit Leiden, Postbus 9555, 2300 RB Leiden. E-mail: groeneweg@fsw.leidenuniv.nl.
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