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Cultural predispositions, specific affective feelings, and benefit–risk perceptions: explicating local policy elites’ perceived utility of high voltage power line installations


Policy controversies concerning the prioritized expansion of the National Energy Grid in the U.S. have drawn our attention to examine the variations of benefit–risk perceptions associated with High Voltage Power Line (HVPL) installation among policy elites, a critical conceptual segment of political actors constituting the U.S. energy policy subsystem. From early psychometric studies to more recent explorations of the emotional aspects of risk appraisal, specifying the role of affective feelings in understanding risk judgment has been a subject of much previous research. This paper seeks to advance such an affect-driven approach in an attempt to account for social psychology-based factors by systemically investigating how specific emotions and personally held intrinsic values and beliefs jointly influence individual-level perceptions of HVPL benefits and risks, relying on recent original survey data containing individual responses from 420 anonymous community leaders and key local policy-makers in the state of Arkansas. Building upon previous research rooted in the dual process model of risk judgment and appraisal tendency framework, a particular emphasis is given to identifying the triadic relationship between culturally biased value predispositions, specific emotional dimensions of affect heuristics, and perceptions pertaining to various aspects of HVPL risks and benefits. Through the implementation of the causal mediation analysis, we found that the effect of cultural value predispositions (i.e. egalitarianism, individualism, hierarchism, and fatalism) on perceived benefits and risks associated with HPVL installation among policy elites is partially mediated by specific affective feelings (i.e. fear, anger, happiness, and excitement) in very distinct ways. We conclude this paper by suggesting that a more robust understanding of the cognitive mechanism of benefit–risk perceptions, particularly those of individuals with more opportunities and resources to shape related policies, promises valuable insight for the development of more effective risk communications and better policy-making practices.

Keywords: Affect heuristics, emotions, risk perceptions, cultural theory, high-voltage power lines


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