Multiple hazards and risk perceptions over time: the availability heuristic in Italy and Sweden under COVID-19

Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Elena Mondino, Maria Rusca, Emanuele Del Giudice, Johanna Mård, Elena Ridolfi, Anna Scolobig, Elena Raffetti

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The severe impact of global crises, such as COVID-19 and climate change, is plausibly reshaping the way in which people perceive risks. In this paper, we examine and compare how global crises and local disasters influence public perceptions of multiple hazards in Italy and Sweden. To this end, we integrate information about the occurrence of hazardous events with the results of two nationwide surveys. These included more than 4000 participants and were conducted in two different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic corresponding to low (August 2020) and high (November 2020) levels of infection rates. We found that, in both countries, people are more worried about risks related to experienced events. This is in line with the cognitive process known as the availability heuristic: individuals assess the risk associated with a given hazard based on how easily it comes to their mind. Epidemics, for example, are perceived as less likely and more impactful in Italy compared to Sweden. This outcome can be explained by cross-country differences in the impact of, as well as governmental responses to, COVID-19. Notwithstanding the ongoing pandemic, people in both Italy and Sweden are highly concerned about climate change, and they rank it as the most likely threat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3439-3447
Number of pages9
JournalNatural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2021

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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