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The role of anxiety in the perception of technological hazards – A cross-sectional study on cell phones and masts

Abstract : Background Risk perception is determined by parameters related to the nature of the risk, as well as inherent to the individual perceiving this risk. This study was designed to provide a better understanding of the role of personality, especially anxiety traits, on risk perception. It compared representations of two different risks, smoking (with known and generally accepted adverse health effects) and cell phones (whose hazardous potency is still controversial), each presented in two different forms of exposure, active (smokers and cell phone users) and passive (passive smoking and exposure to cell phone masts). Methods A self-administered questionnaire sent to volunteer subjects collected sociodemographic and exposure data. It measured the perceived risk as well as 11 psychometric properties of risk using visual analogue scales (values ranging from 0 to 10). An anxiety trait was evaluated by the Spielberger questionnaire. Results In all, 72% of the questionnaires sent were returned. Mean declared risk scores attributed to passive and active smoking were higher (8.75 and 8.31 respectively) than those attributed to cell phones and masts (4.44 and 4.73 respectively). However, scores for the 11 psychometric properties of the risk attributed to cell phones were higher than those associated with smoking, especially for dissatisfaction with information (6.71 and 7.36 respectively for cell phones and masts versus 1.75 and 2.18 for passive and active smoking) and the capacity of authorities to master the risk (6.45 and 6.65 for cell phones and masts versus 4.72 and 4.40 for passive and active smoking). Anxiety did not directly influence the risk scores attributed to these 4 forms of exposure but was predictive of the way in which subjects perceived the risk in terms of two essential properties: uncertainty concerning the effects on health and the potential to trigger health catastrophes. Indeed anxious subjects are more certain about the hazards of cell phones and masts than non-anxious subjects (P = 0.008 et P ≤ 0.001) and attributed a higher catastrophic potential (P = 0.02 and P = 0.004). Conclusion This study suggests that subjects with an anxious profile are affected by the destabilizing nature of uncertain knowledge concerning the hazardous potency of new technologies and of the controversies concerning this hazard
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Submitted on : Monday, October 26, 2015 - 4:35:34 PM
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V. Denny-Bas, D. Zmirou-Navier, C. de Tychey, S Briançon. The role of anxiety in the perception of technological hazards – A cross-sectional study on cell phones and masts. Epidemiology and Public Health / Revue d'Epidémiologie et de Santé Publique, Elsevier Masson, 2014, 62 (2), pp.135--143. ⟨10.1016/j.respe.2013.11.076⟩. ⟨hal-01220643⟩



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