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Precautions against What? The Availability Heuristic and Cross-Cultural Risk Perceptions

39 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2004  

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: August 2004

Abstract

Because risks are all on sides of social situations, it is not possible to be globally "precautionary." Hence the Precautionary Principle, in its strongest forms, runs into fatal conceptual difficulties; any precautions will themselves create hazards of one or another kind. When the Precautionary Principle seems to give guidance, it is often because of the availability heuristic, which can make some risks stand out as particularly salient, whatever their actual magnitude. The same heuristic helps to explain differences across groups, cultures, and even nations in the perception of risks, especially when linked with such social processes as cascades and group polarization. An important complication here here is that what is available is sometimes a result of predispositions, cultural and otherwise. There are complex links among availability, social processes for the spreading of information, and predispositions.

Keywords: precautionary principle, risk

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Precautions against What? The Availability Heuristic and Cross-Cultural Risk Perceptions (August 2004). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 220; AEI-Brookings Joint Center Working Paper No. 04-22. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=578303 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.578303

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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