Human life is full of hazards and risks: climate change, food hazards, overpopulation, biotechnology, vector diseases, soil degradation, pollution, extreme weather events, and so forth. Importantly, a risk is the probability that an agent experiences some negative effect when this agent is exposed and vulnerable to the hazard. So, hazards typically do not create much interest in isolation but they become meaningful because they have effects on, and interact with, humans and societies. Therefore, in order to have a full understanding of these phenomena it is key to get insights in not just the nature of hazards, but also the risk they may bring about. An important aspect in this regard is the interaction between hazards and the social context. One way of doing this is by studying the social and communicative aspects of life science problems because this helps in understanding how societies perceive and deal with risks, and because insights in these phenomena allows for designing communication interventions that can mitigate of control life science risks. For these reasons I study risk communication in life science contexts.
My primary research interest addresses the interplay between psychological and communicative processes in situations of risk and uncertainty. For instance, the mere fact that individuals may – albeit falsely or not – assume a particular phenomenon is risky may sort significant reality effects: facts are facts, but perceptions are reality. Having a background as a social and organizational psychologist with an expertise in motivation provides me with the capacity to explore the role of relevant individual factors in contexts of risk and uncertainty. Importantly, it also allows for studying key processes – such as risk perceptions and levels of trust – that define the individual in relation to the social and institutional environment.
Three research lines make up my research agenda. First, I study how psychological factors interact with risk communication. For example, sometimes risk communication has an impact on risk perceptions, but sometimes the relation is reversed: risk perceptions can also shape the dynamics of risk communication. The second research line deals with behavioral and communicative factors that explain the adoption of (novel) technologies and practices, because the uptake is often associated with risk and uncertainty associated with novel technology. The last line builds on the second, but takes a higher levels perspective. In this third research line I study how behavioral and communicative factors in uptake of practices interact with other and higher level factors, such as the economic and systemic features in which the practice is embedded. Together, these lines of research address the communicative interaction between humans and life science issues defined by risk and uncertainty. As such, these lines form my agenda on risk communication in life science contexts.