Inderscience Publishers

Institutional trust, information processing and perception of environmental cancer risk

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This paper examines how institutional trust affects the way in which people process information and perceive risk. Data come from a study of risk perception in the circumstance of US state health department investigations of suspected cancer clusters, with 30 cases examined (n = 1,111). Trust is assessed for three information sources: state health departments, civic groups and industries involved in each case. Higher trust for the state directly predicts lower risk perception, while high trust for civic groups predicts greater risk perception. Perceiving high trust for industry and state ? and low trust for civic groups?promotes heuristic processing, which in turn predicts lower risk perception. Alternately, perceiving industry to have low trust and civic groups to have high trust promotes greater systematic processing, which consistently leads to perception of greater risk. Almost all of the effect of industry trust on risk is expressed indirectly.

Keywords: cancer clusters, information processing, institutional trust, risk perception, environmental cancer risk

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