Risk and Culture
The Second National Risk and Culture Study, conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School.
Cultural Cognition refers to the disposition to conform one’s beliefs about societal risks to one’s preferences for how society should be organized. Based on surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans, the Second National Risk and Culture Study presents empirical evidence of the effect of this dynamic in generating conflict about global warming, school shootings, domestic terrorism, nanotechnology, and the mandatory vaccination of school-age girls against HPV, among other issues. The Study also presents evidence of risk-communication strategies that counteract cultural cognition. Because nuclear power affirms rather than threatens the identity of persons who hold individualist values, for example, proposing it as a solution to global warming makes persons who hold such values more willing to consider evidence that climate change is a serious risk. Because people tend to impute credibility to people who share their values, persons who hold hierarchical and egalitarian values are less likely to polarize when they observe people who hold their values advocating unexpected positions on the vaccination of young girls against HPV. Such techniques can help society to create a deliberative climate in which citizens converge on policies that are both instrumentally sound and expressively congenial to persons of diverse values.
And from the conclusion:
There is a culture war in America, but it is about facts, not values. There is very little evidence that most Americans care nearly as much about issues that symbolize competing cultural values as they do about the economy, national security, and the safety and health of themselves and their loved ones. There is ample evidence, however, that Americans are sharply divided along cultural lines about what sorts of conditions endanger these interests and what sorts of policies effectively counteract such risks.
Findings from the Second National Culture and Risk Study help to show why. Psychologically speaking, it’s much easier to believe that conduct one finds dishonorable or offensive is dangerous, and conduct one finds noble or admirable is socially beneficial, than vice versa. People are also much more inclined to accept information about risk and danger when it comes from someone who shares their values than when it comes from someone who holds opposing commitments.