Info - Project RAC

Risk attitudes: a cross-cultural study

Bernd ROHRMANN (University of Melbourne)

= Project summary =


"Risk" is a flourishing area of social science research - but our understanding of how humans think and feel about risks is still incomplete. While risk behavior has been studied intensely in both psychological and economic terms and a large number of risk perception studies exist, far less research has been done regarding people's risk attitudes, i.e., risk propensity and risk aversion. These can be conceptualized as two poles of a one-dimensional attitude towards risk-taking but also as two separate concepts. It is widely assumed that people differ considerably in their attitude towards risks, ranging from cautiousness to risk-seeking and even pleasure in risk-taking. However, there is no convincing evidence that this presumed dimension is a general trait (rather than a state or domain-specific attitude), and the supposed influence on both risk perception and actual risk behavior is not yet well clarified. Furthermore, heterogeneous types of hazards (i.e., physical, financial, social risks) have not been covered systematically; and there is only restricted cross-validation with respect to related constructs. Finally, there is insufficient knowledge regarding cross-cultural differences - between societal sub-groups and/or across countries

Relevant issues

These issues were addressed in a long-term cross-cultural project (1999-2008). Research questions include:

oCan the presumed risk attitude be constructed as a one-dimensional variable, or are risk propensity and risk aversion distinct constructs?
oWhat is the structural relationship between risk attitudes, risk perception and risk behavior variables?
oAre (a) risk propensity and/or aversion, (b) perceived risk magnitude, (c) risk acceptance correlated across hazard types, i.e., physical risks, financial risks, social risks?
oWhat are the motivations of people when they decide about taking or avoiding risks?
oAre risk attitudes influenced by people's cultural background in terms of their ideological, professional and national affiliations?

Research plan

The following sub-studies are included:
[A]The subjective understanding of risk taking motivations (conceptual study)
[B1]Correlational structure of risk related constructs (employing currently available scales)
[B2]Cross cultural differences in risk propensity/aversion (e.g., 'western'/'eastern' countries)
[C]Risk attitudes of people exposed to extreme environments (i.e., 'real' risk takers

Instruments include: scales for risk propensity/aversion (click rac-roq for a preliminary "Risk Orientation Questionnaire"), sensation-seeking, decision styles, hazard evaluation, experiences with risk-taking. New questionnaires have also been designed during the course of this research project, utilizing several psychometric approaches.

Current status

Sub-studies (A) and (B1) are completed. Sub-study (B2) is mostly finished, including data collections in Hong Kong and Germany; extension to Switzerland and Brazil were restricted to selected issues. The analysis of the complex data collected in Hong Kong shall be completed in late 2010. (C) will be conducted once the analysis of the relevant instruments is finalised.

Within (A), three new instruments were developed, the "Risk Scenario Questionnaire" (RSQ), the "Risk Propensity Questionnaire" (RPQ) and the "Risk Motivation Questionnaire" (RMQ). All four risk attitude questionnaires are available in English, German and Chinese language (in case of interest please contact mail { at } A comprehensive publication is in preparation. Two texts were prepared which outline the conceptualization of this project and present the results achieved so far (Rohrmann 2005, Rohrmann 2011); click ras-report for the second one.

Expected outcomes

The main benefits of the project will be: Applicable knowledge about the relevance of risk attitudes (e.g., for hazard information or safety enhancement programs) and instruments which can be utilized in pertinent research on risk cognition and risk control. Accordingly, researchers frequently request access to the attitude scales generated in this endeavour.

= Contact address =

Prof. Bernd ROHRMANN,  via
Roman Research Road venture, Melbourne, Victoria 3054, AUSTRALIA
E-Mail: mail {at}

Updated: BR 05-05-10