Cultural Evaluations of Risk: 'Values' or 'Blunders'?

10 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2006

See all articles by Dan M. Kahan

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

Date Written: March 14, 2006


The phenomenon of cultural cognition refers to the disposition of individuals to adopt factual beliefs about risk that express their cultural evaluations of putatively dangerous activities. In a previous review essay (119 Harv. L. Rev. 1071 (2006)), we suggested that this phenomenon makes it inappropriate to treat public risk perceptions that differ from those of expert regulators as simple mistakes, which should be denied weight in lawmaking, as opposed to values, which presumably should guide regulatory policy in a democratic society. Cass Sunstein wrote a critical response (119 Harv. L. Rev. 1110 (2006)). Sunstein's basic thesis is that cultural cognition is largely a result of bounded rationality, not an alternative to it, and as such generates beliefs no more entitled to normative respect than those associated with other types of cognitive biases. We offer a (brief) reply, distinguishing the question of whether cultural cognition can be explained by biases and heuristics attributable to bounded rationality (we say, no) from the question of whether beliefs founded on cultural cognition should be normative for law (we say, sometimes).

Keywords: ultural cognition, risk perception

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Slovic, Paul, Cultural Evaluations of Risk: 'Values' or 'Blunders'? (March 14, 2006). Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 111. Available at SSRN: or

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States


Paul Slovic

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)
541-485-2403 (Fax)


University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)

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