Support, Opposition, Emotion and Contentious Issue Risk Perception

M. Bourassa, K. Doraty, L. Berdahl, Jana Fried, S. Bell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)
    130 Downloads (Pure)


    Purpose – Research on emotion in the context of risk perception has historically focused on negative emotions, and has emphasized the effect of these negative emotions on the perception of risk amongst those who oppose (rather than support) contentious issues. Drawing on theory, the purpose of this paper is to hypothesize that both positive and negative emotions are correlated with risk perceptions regarding contentious public issues and that this occurs amongst supporters and opponents alike. Design/methodology/approach – The paper explores the relationship between emotions and perceived risk through consideration of the highly contentious case of nuclear energy in Saskatchewan, Canada. The analysis uses data from a representative telephone survey of 1,355 residents. Findings – The results suggest that positive emotions, like negative emotions, are related to nuclear energy risk perceptions. Emotions are related to risk perception amongst both supporters and opponents. Research limitations/implications – The data set’s limited number of emotion measures and single public issue focus, combined with the survey’s cross-sectional design, make this research exploratory in nature. Future research should incorporate multiple positive emotions, explore opposition, and support across a range of contentious public issues, and consider experimental models to assess causal relationships. Practical implications – The paper offers insights into how public sector managers must be cognizant of the emotional underpinnings of risk perceptions amongst both supporters and opponents of contentious public issues. Originality/value – This paper builds on and expands previous work by considering both positive and negative emotions and both supporters and opponents of contentious issues.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)201-216
    JournalInternational Journal of Public Sector Management
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Risk perception
    • Risk management
    • Public attitudes
    • Emotion
    • Contentious issues
    • Nuclear energy


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