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Risk Communication Bibliography


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Why a Risk Communication Bibliography Is Necessary

Science is continually adding to our store of knowledge about health and safety problems. Researchers learn about the prevalence and consequences of various hazards, the risk factors that determine individual vulnerability, and the choices available for prevention and treatment. The need to share this information with the public, health professionals, the media, and policy makers is obvious, but it is also becoming clear that effective transmission of these research findings is a serious challenge. The probabilities and odds that form the language of scientific research are seldom understandable to nonscientists, and even when understandable, nonscientists may not find such statistics very helpful in making actual decisions. Much communication about risk is patently unsuccessful.

Because considerations of risk are relevant to so many human endeavors, attempts to improve risk communication are presently occurring in a variety of different professions and disciplines. As a consequence, the literature on this topic is unusually dispersed. Discovering what is known about any particular issue in risk communication is extremely difficult.


The Scope of the Bibliography

This bibliography provides an introduction to the risk communication literature from 1999 through the spring of 2006. The bibliography does not pretend to be a complete collection of all relevant articles, and many valuable sources have undoubtedly been missed. Nevertheless, its over 850 listings should provide a good starting point for searching the field. Emphasizing recent publications, it includes reports of experiments, theoretical discussions, case histories, how-to manuals, dissertations, and reviews. The bibliography is not limited to cancer risks because much of use to cancer risk communication can be gleaned from lessons learned in other domains.

To set realistic boundaries, we focused this bibliography on publications that relate to the specific task of explaining the nature and magnitude of hazards to the public. This focus unavoidably neglects important social, legal, political, ethical, and institutional issues in risk communication. (A non-annotated list of references covering the broad field of risk communication may be found at the National Library of Medicine:

The bibliography does, however, include many articles that deal with risk perception, even ones lacking any mention of communication, because learning how people think about risk should help us discover how well they understand our risk messages and help us find ways to increase their risk understanding.

Number of Risk Communication / Perception Articles Published from 1990-2006

Year Number of
1990-1997 249
1998 47
1999 74
2000 52
2001 65
2002 69
2003 68
2004 64
2005 54
2006 June 18


How Entries Were Located

The two primary sources of the items in this bibliography, PsycINFO©, the database in psychology and Medline©, the database in medicine, were searched using appropriate keywords. Another valuable resource was the compendium of articles on risk communication, edited by Barbara Rimer and J. Paul Van Nevel, that was published as the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Monograph 25 (1999). This bibliography includes the articles that appeared in that monograph. We also used the reference lists at the ends of those articles to find additional relevant publications, and received help from the authors of the articles, several of whom shared with us their personal collections of risk communication articles.


Updating the Risk Communication Bibliography

The Risk Communication Bibliography was created in 1999. The first update was carried out between November 1, 2002 and September 1, 2003. The second update was completed on June 30, 2006. As with the original bibliography, this update does not claim to be a complete collection of all relevant articles. However, it contains an estimated 300 new references which will be valuable to researchers in risk communication and risk perception.

Entries for this update were located by searching the PsycINFO, Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, and Web of Science databases from 2003 through June, 2006.


Information Provided about Each Entry

A simple list of references would have been relatively easy to compile, but its usefulness would have been limited by the fact that a title is not always a good guide to the content of a document. This bibliography provides citation information, but it also contains a one-sentence summary of each entry. Sentences were written to emphasize the issues that are addressed by the author(s) rather than the conclusions that are reached. In addition, articles were coded on a number of dimensions ("coding categories") so that those articles dealing with particular issues will be easier to locate. This coding system was especially designed to classify empirical research articles, describing the setting, communicator, audience, hazard, outcome variable, and so forth. Many of these categories do not pertain to other types of articles or documents, but they were used whenever they were applicable.� Because dissertations are difficult to obtain, those appearing here have not received the detailed coding given to journal articles, books, chapters, and reports.

These coding categories were developed after examining many bibliography documents. Nevertheless, during the actual coding, issues suggesting new categories or new codes within categories sometimes appeared. Unfortunately, the system could not be changed without recoding everything, which was not feasible. Thus, there is room for further development and improvement of this coding system.

Also, despite attempts to create clear definitions that would produce coding reliability, there is unavoidably some subjectivity in how each entry was finally coded. Thus, when looking for publications on a given topic it is best to search in multiple ways. For completeness, one can use not only the existing coding categories and specific codes but also search the entire record (including the title and sentence summary) for words or phrases that might also describe the same idea.  

The coding categories and an example of a code used in each category follow in Table 1. If a category proved to be relevant to a publication, the appropriate code (or codes) was assigned.� If the category was only discussed in general terms or if many different aspects of the category topic were examined, the name of the category, rather than specific codes, was entered to indicate this situation. If a category did not prove to be relevant to a particular publication, no code was assigned for that category.

To see a complete list of all the categories and all the codes used within the categories click on the Bibliography Coding System link.

Table 1

Coding category
Publication type discussion
Focus format
Communicator celebrity
Audience role health/safety professional
Audience ethnicity African-American
Audience gender female
Setting for risk communication health care setting
Channels of risk communication radio
Content of risk message definition of hazard
Form of risk information graphical display
Outcomes recall of message
Hazard cancer
Methodological issues evaluation criteria


For Whom the Bibliography Is Intended

This bibliography is intended for anyone with an interest in risk communication, including health educators, media professionals, psychologists, physicians, nurses, social workers, environmental scientists, public officials, and others. In other words, anyone who has to communicate risk information and anyone who would like to study issues in risk communication. Still, users should recognize that because there is so much we do not yet know, someone who looks to this bibliography for detailed guidance in the design of effective messages is likely to be disappointed. In fact, a great many of the entries are reports of original research investigations, each focusing on a very specific issue. There are many valuable insights and helpful principles in this research literature, but no cook-book answers. We know more today about what does not work than about what does.

Alternative Versions of the Bibliography

You can search the HTML version of the Risk Communication Bibliography online or you can download a copy of the bibliography to the hard drive of your personal computer in several formats:

To download one of these files:

  1. Right click on the link
  2. Select Save Target As from the menu that appears
  3. Choose a destination folder for the file from the Save in drop down box
  4. Click Save



The Risk Communications Bibliography was created by Professor Neil D. Weinstein, Department of Human Ecology, and Cara L. Cuite, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Barbara Rimer, Former Director, DCCPS and Robert Croyle, Acting Director, DCCPS were the original catalysts behind producing the Bibliography. Invaluable assistance and contributions to the Bibliography were received from Jessica Heppen, Alison Smith, Dianne Needham, Everett Carpenter, and Diane Vreeland.

The 2003 update to the Risk Communication Bibliography was carried out by Erika A. Waters, Department of Psychology, Rutgers - the State University of New Jersey, with support from Dr. Neil D. Weinstein. Marco daCosta DiBonaventura, Tami Musumeci, Tara Broccoli, Kimberly Alberg, Gloria Rasband, Dana Thigpen, and Janice Solomon provided essential assistance.

The 2006 update to the Risk Communication Bibliography was carried out by Jhon Wlaschin, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, with support from Andy Hertel, Grace Deason, Lane Beckes, Paul Fuglestad, Rita Langteau, Megan Hansen and Brad Lippmann.

The National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided funding for the Bibliography under the contract mechanism 263-MQ-915306-1.


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