People’s responses to risks of electromagnetic fields and trust in government policy: the role of perceived risk, benefits and control.

  • Author: van Dongen, Claassen, Smid & Timmermans
  • Journal: Journal of Risk Research
  • Issue: 8
  • Volume: 16
  • Pages: 945-957


Trust in government policy affects the way people perceive and handle risks. In our study, we investigated the relationships between trust in government policy regarding electromagnetic fields (EMF), perceived risk and perceived benefits of public and personal EMF sources, perceived control over exposure to EMF and responses to the possible EMF health risk (e.g. protest against placement of mobile phone base stations or power lines, or taking own measures against EMF exposure). Previous research indicated that perceived risk and benefits mediate the relationship between trust and people’s risk responses. Additionally, we suggest that perceived control over EMF exposure affects the relation between trust in government policy and perceived risk, and, consequently, the risk responses. We performed a survey among the Dutch population (n = 1009), which contained questions about risk responses to EMF, perceived risk and benefits of several EMF sources, trust in government policy and perceived control over EMF exposure. Comparing public EMF sources, i.e. power lines and mobile phone base stations, to personal EMF sources, i.e. microwave ovens and cordless and mobile phones, we tested our hypotheses. Variations in risk responses to both public and personal EMF sources were mainly explained by risk perception. In addition, perceived risk partially mediated the relationship between trust in government policy and risk responses. For public sources, perceived control over exposure weakened the negative relationship between trust and perceived risk. We conclude that, especially in people with low perceived control, a lack of trust in government policy may enhance perceptions of health risks, thereby increasing their inclination for risk responses.