Exploring Lay Uncertainty about an Environmental Health Risk

Document Type




Format of Original

21 p.

Publication Date



SAGE Publications

Source Publication

Public Understanding of Science

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1177/0963662507074491


How do laypeople perceive uncertainties about environmental health risks? How do risk-related cognitions and emotions influence these uncertainties, and what roles do sociodemographic and contextual factors, risk judgments, and information exposures play? This study explores these questions using secondary analyses of survey data. Results suggest that uncertainty reflects individual-level emotions and cognitions, but may also be shaped by a variety of social and contextual factors. Emotions (worry and anger) are strongly associated with perceived uncertainty, and perceived lack of knowledge and perceived likelihood of becoming ill are weakly associated with it. Several demographic variables, information exposures, and risk judgment variables affect perceived uncertainty indirectly, primarily through perceived knowledge and emotions. These findings raise a variety of questions about the complex and dynamic interactions among risk contexts, socioeconomic factors, communication processes, perceived knowledge, emotions, and perceived uncertainties about risks.


Public Understanding of Science, Vol. 16, No. 3 (July 2007): 323-343. DOI.