Risk of electromagnetic fields. Perception and determinants.

Category: Humanities and social sciences


Risk of electromagnetic fields. Perception and determinants.




The project aims at identifying determinants of perceived risks of electromagnetic fields, in comparing usage of mobile phone and exposure to base stations, with reference to risk perception related to active and passive smoking. Quantitative and qualitative approaches will be used to explore personality characteristics: telephone interviews on a representative sample of the Lorraine population, self-administered questionnaire, including visual analogic scales and standardised questionnaires and clinical psychology qualitative interviews.




Université Henri Poincaré, Nancy 1 – Ecole de Santé publique – Epidémiologie, prévention, qualité de vie




Université Nancy 2 – Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive et clinique



INSERM – ERI 11 – Epidémiologie de la santé, économie et prévention




Serge BRIANCON    Ecole de santé publique, Nancy

[email protected]



30 months





1) Introduction

The project aims at better understanding determinants and consequences of risk perception in the general population. It is particularly designed to explore, in addition to known sociodemographic determinants, personality factors which are likely to explain differences in risk perception. It will estimate the frequency of concerns associated with exposure to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones and base stations, in reference to risk perception of passive and active smoking. It will investigate determinants of this perception by means of self administered questionnaires exploring the qualitative factors of risk used in psychometrics models and also by means of  standardised questionnaires; finally, it will in-depth explore personality, life experience and quality of life of individuals through qualitative interviews.


Domains: Human and social sciences, perception of risk.

Key words: celltowers, mobile phone, smoking.


2) State of the art

The domain of electromagnetic fields is an interesting model to study risk perception. Two types of exposure can be distinguished: on the one hand, utilisage of mobile phone encompasses a strong behavioural component and an immediate individual benefit; on the other hand, exposure to electromagnetic fields of base stations, characterized by an environmental exposure without immediate and apparent individual benefit. Exploration of the behaviours and the perception of these two types of risk, and their comparison with those associated with smoking, which has also behavioural (active smoking) and environmental (passive smoking) components seems to be very promising. Indeed, many studies have explored in a descriptive manner the frequency of fears and perception for different environmental exposure, but none has explored, in the same individuals, determinants and consequences for these different types of behaviours and risk perceptions.


3) Scientific methodology

It is based on epidemiology and human sciences methods. It is structured in 4 steps: an epidemiologic survey with phone interviews in a representative sample of the lorraine population, associated to the full Lorraine survey ‘baromètre santé’, which is an over-sampling of the national ‘Baromètre Santé’ of INPES. Step 2 is a selection of 4 types of subjects, as a function of their smoking behaviour and their declared fears about electromagnetic fields. It proposes to volunteer subjects selected from step 1 self administered questionnaire with standardised and validated instruments: anxiety measures, personality measures, tolerance to ambiguity, quality of life, and perceived risks by means of visual analogic scales … Step 3 consists of clinical investigations by psychologist on a small group of subjects characterised after step 2. Step 4 analyses in a synthetic manner the results of the 4 previous steps.


4) Partnership, skills

The originality and the quality of this project is based of the association of 3 teams, which altogether gather the necessary skills for this type of project. Team 1 is specialized in the study of measures perception with epidemiologic tools, especially quality of life measures. Team 2, in health psychology, is particularly trained with qualitative interviews and the utilisation of measures of personality with standardised instruments. Team 3 is specialised in environmental health and has worked in the domain of risks of mobile phone. The added value of this partnership is optimal, none of these teams having by itself the capacity to implement such a project.


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