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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Fear and culture

My first purpose in this post is to direct readers to a fascinating research endeavor headed by Yale law professor Dan Kahan and George Washington University law school professor Donald Braman - the Cultural Cognition Project. Here is a brief description of the project from its website:

The Cultural Cognition Project is a group of scholars interested in studying how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their beliefs about disputed matters of fact (e.g., whether global warming is a serious threat; whether the death penalty deters murder; whether gun control makes society more safe or less) to values that define their cultural identities. Project members are using the methods of various disciplines -- including social psychology, anthropology, communications, and political science -- to chart the impact of this phenomenon and to identify the mechanisms through which it operates. The Project also has an explicit normative objective: to identify processes of democratic decisionmaking by which society can resolve culturally grounded differences in belief in a manner that is both congenial to persons of diverse cultural outlooks and consistent with sound public policymaking.

I've been doing some reading in recent months on the topics of fear and risk and find the topic very compelling, especially with regard to how it plays out in our day to day lives (sometimes on rather mundane matters). My second purpose in this post is to pose to you, dear readers, a quick question: Can you think of any fears that could be described as distinct to a country you are familiar with - this doesn't mean that it only occurs in a given country, but rather that it is much more prevalent or pronounced in that country. Alternatively we might think in terms of regions within the United States. Sunstein offers the example of European nations taking a much more precautionary approach to genetically modified food than the United States. I'm thinking more along the lines of individual fears - are there things that you have seen people fear greatly in this country that are largely ignored in others? Or vice versa?

Posted by Jeff Yates on June 8, 2011 at 01:27 PM in Culture, Science, Travel | Permalink


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In Germany, there's a widely accepted belief that ice in soft drinks will make you sick, while here the idea of drinking a soft drink without ice is gross.

Posted by: Dave | Jun 9, 2011 6:06:50 PM

People in the US seem to be much more fearful of the risk to a fetus from a pregnant woman consuming the occasional glass of wine (contrary to the evidence which negates this concern). But in Europe, they seem much more concerned about the risk to a fetus of a pregnant woman consuming raw vegetables.

Posted by: anon | Jun 9, 2011 2:25:55 PM

I asked someone from the UK this question and that was one of the first things that came to their mind.

Posted by: Jeff Yates | Jun 8, 2011 5:51:30 PM

In the US there seems to be great fear of allowing children to play outside, alone.

Posted by: anon | Jun 8, 2011 3:33:26 PM

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