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Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception

48 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2007 Last revised: 16 Apr 2013

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

John Gastil

Pennsylvania State University

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

C. K. Mertz

Decision Research

Abstract

Why do white men fear various risks less than women and minorities? Known as the white male effect, this pattern is well documented but poorly understood. This paper proposes a new explanation: identity-protective cognition. Putting work on the cultural theory of risk together with work on motivated cognition in social psychology suggests that individuals selectively credit and dismiss asserted dangers in a manner supportive of their preferred form of social organization. This dynamic, it is hypothesized, drives the white male effect, which reflects the risk skepticism that hierarchical and individualistic white males display when activities integral to their cultural identities are challenged as harmful. The article presents the results of an 1,800-person study that confirmed that cultural worldviews interact with the impact of gender and race on risk perception in patterns that suggest cultural-identity-protective cognition. It also discusses the implication of these findings for risk regulation and communication.

Notes: Substantially Revised Version of "Gender, Race, and Risk Perception: The Influence of Cultural Status Anxiety", SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=723762

Keywords: white male effect, risk, risk perception, cultural cognition

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Braman, Donald and Gastil, John and Slovic, Paul and Mertz, C. K., Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 465-505, November 2007; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 152. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=995634

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

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

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Cultural Cognition Project ( email )

2000 H St NW
2000 H Street
Washington, DC 20052 20052
United States
202-491-8843 (Phone)
202 491-8843 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/braman

John Gastil

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

University Park, PA 16802
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)

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

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

C. K. Mertz

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States

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