Focal points for improving communications about electromagnetic fields and health: a mental models approach

  • Author: Claassen, Bostrom & Timmermans
  • Journal: Journal of Risk Research
  • Issue: 2
  • Volume: 19
  • Pages: 264-269


Central to the precautionary policy is the provision of information about electromagnetic fields (EMF) technology, exposures, potential health risks and exposure management actions to the public. To meet this need at the broadest level, beyond the specific technology foci of previous research, a research project was commissioned as part of Dutch Electromagnetic Fields and Health Research Programme. This study provides an assessment of Dutch EMF information needs from an ensemble of sources by addressing people’s existing ideas and beliefs, using a mental models approach. A summary expert model of influences on and consequences of exposure derived from search of the relevant literature is informed by interviews with 15 scientists and professionals with diverse expertise. Although the professionals characterize the physical characteristics and psychological aspects of exposure to EMF in daily life similarly, there is no consensus regarding potential health effects. Interviews with 12 lay people followed by a confirmatory survey of the general Dutch public (n = 403) reveal not only wide variation in beliefs regarding potential health effects of EMF, but also overestimation of the amount of radiation from public sources relative to personal sources of EMF. People do not feel adequately informed by the government about EMF, and knowledge of government policies on EMF is limited. Together, the evidence suggests three focal points for improving EMF risk communications: providing more clarity regarding the uncertainty of evidence for health effects, illuminating personal EMF exposures in daily life and providing more accessible and transparent information on governmental policies.