The International Organization for Standardization defines risk as ‘the effect of uncertainty on objectives’. Implied in this definition is that how you perceive risk is always associated with your objectives and from there, your goals and values. Considering that none of us have the same values, goals or experiences, it is only logical that our understanding of a certain risk is individual - it shows our individual concerns, and this is always the case.
There is no such thing as an objective risk assessment. Technical risk assessments, although they sound scientific, aren’t objective either. Although they do supply tools for understanding risks, they are based on theoretical models comprised of subjective judgements at every stage, and as such, they are no less subjective in nature. Most daily risk assessments that we make are decided by fast, intuitive “gut feelings”. While our intuition can often be a good guide, it can also send us down the wrong path. Intuition is instant and it almost always disregards the technical aspects such as costs, benefits and probabilities. As Lloyd's Register Foundation would put it, "‘probability neglect’ is an example, where we invest too much effort and resources in trying to avoid (or achieve) a very low probability outcome, in response to a strong negative (or positive) emotional reaction to that possible outcome."
However, it isn’t only our risk perception that play a role in the decision-making process. Our attitudes towards risk are quite influential as well. A person can be risk-seeking, risk-averse or risk-neutral. According to research, our different behaviors in the face of risk can be explained by the differences in risk perception which does change over time, just like our concerns change over time (we are less worried about nuclear power and more worried about terrorism today than we were twenty years ago).
Therefore, although in all of its subjectivity it is very complex, how we come to the right answer is decided by our perception of risk in combination with our attitudes towards it.
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