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RF EMF Risk Perception Revisited: Is the Focus on Concern Sufficient for Risk Perception Studies?

School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Northfields Ave, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, University of Wollongong Campus, NSW 2522, Australia
Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research, NH&MRC Centre of Research Excellence, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
Centre for Population Population Health Research on Electromagnetic Energy, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia
Department of Science Communication, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Englerstr. 2 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Chaire C2M, LTCI Telecom ParisTech, Paris Saclay University, 46 Rue Barrault, 75013 Paris, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Krassi Rumchev, Jeffery Spickett and Helen Brown
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(6), 620;
Received: 5 April 2017 / Revised: 29 May 2017 / Accepted: 1 June 2017 / Published: 8 June 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Health Impact Assessment)
PDF [982 KB, uploaded 12 June 2017]


An implicit assumption of risk perception studies is that concerns expressed in questionnaires reflect concerns in everyday life. The aim of the present study is to check this assumption, i.e., the extrapolability of risk perceptions expressed in a survey, to risk perceptions in everyday life. To that end, risk perceptions were measured by a multidimensional approach. In addition to the traditional focus on measuring the magnitude of risk perceptions, the thematic relevance (how often people think about a risk issue) and the discursive relevance (how often people think about or discuss a risk issue) of risk perceptions were also collected. Taking into account this extended view of risk perception, an online survey was conducted in six European countries with 2454 respondents, referring to radio frequency electromagnetic field (RF EMF) risk potentials from base stations, and access points, such as WiFi routers and cell phones. The findings reveal that the present study’s multidimensional approach to measuring risk perception provides a more differentiated understanding of RF EMF risk perception. High levels of concerns expressed in questionnaires do not automatically imply that these concerns are thematically relevant in everyday life. We use thematic relevance to distinguish between enduringly concerned (high concern according to both questionnaire and thematic relevance) and not enduringly concerned participants (high concern according to questionnaire but no thematic relevance). Furthermore, we provide data for the empirical value of this distinction: Compared to other participants, enduringly concerned subjects consider radio frequency electromagnetic field exposure to a greater extent as a moral and affective issue. They also see themselves as highly exposed to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. However, despite these differences, subjects with high levels of thematic relevance are nevertheless sensitive to exposure reduction as a means for improving the acceptance of base stations in their neighborhood. This underlines the value of exposure reduction for the acceptance of radio frequency electromagnetic field communication technologies. View Full-Text
Keywords: RF EMF; exposure perception; risk perception; risk communication; base stations; mobile phones; questionnaire design; survey methodology; thematic relevance RF EMF; exposure perception; risk perception; risk communication; base stations; mobile phones; questionnaire design; survey methodology; thematic relevance

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Wiedemann, P.M.; Freudenstein, F.; Böhmert, C.; Wiart, J.; Croft, R.J. RF EMF Risk Perception Revisited: Is the Focus on Concern Sufficient for Risk Perception Studies? Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14, 620.

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