Category: Humanities and social sciences


Risk perceptions related to electromagnetic fields: secondary analysis of quantitative data




Aim of the project: to investigate factors associated with risk perceptions related to power lines and cell phone base stations (sociodemographic and axiologic background, attitudes toward public authorities and scientists, plurality of perceived risks), based on available French data (quantitative surveys conducted among large and representative samples).




Observatoire Régional de la Santé Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur



Patrick Peretti-Watel


[email protected]



12 months





1) Introduction

Nowadays, risk management must take into account public risk perceptions. Risk related to electromagnetic fields, and especially those related to power lines (PL) and cell phone base stations (CPVS), are not an exception to this rule. Both installations are increasingly present in our landscape, and for lay people they may involve similar risks associated to invisible waves that could impair our brain and nerves. This project aims to improve our understanding of the way lay people perceive these two risks, in order to improve corresponding risk management. 


2) State of the art

Our conceptual framework refers to the sociology of risk developped since the 1980s, and especially the seminal works conducted by Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Mary Douglas. These works have been followed by a number of empirical researchs, with contrasted results concerning the sociodemographic and axiologic background associated with the perceptions of contemporary technological risks. PL and CPVS related risks are very good example of such risks: we created them as derivations of productive activities, they escape to our senses (they are invisible), and their consequences on human health are generally located in a distant future. Nevertheless, very few studies have investigated the factors associated with PL and CPVS related risks, and most of them were based on small and non representative samples. Thus our project would contribute to fill a gap in both French and international scientific litterature.


According to our preliminary results, the risk perceived for CPVS was relatively low in 2007 (14% of the French stated that the risk for health due to CPVS is “very high”, and 38% rated it as “rather high”), but the level of confidence expressed toward public au-thorities (concerning both preventive actions and informations spread) was also very low. Concerning PL, in 2006 35% of French people considered that PL could have a deleterious effect on the health of people living along them (versus 28% ten years ago). These first results deserve further investigations, especially concerning associated factors.


3) Scientific methodology

We will gather data extracted from several quantitative surveys recently conducted among large and representative samples of the French population (including European data for PL only). Statistical analysis will be performed (principal component analysis, cluster analysis, logistic regressions) in order to investigate sociodemographic and axiologic factors associated with CPBS and PL related risk perceptions (including attitudes toward public authorities and scientists), as well as the plurality of risk perceptions.



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