Handbook of Research methods and Applications in Environmental Studies
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Handbook of Research methods and Applications in Environmental Studies

Edited by Matthias Ruth

This volume presents methods to advance the understanding of interdependencies between the well-being of human societies and the performance of their biophysical environment. It showcases applications to material and energy use; urbanization and technological transition; economic growth and social vulnerabilities; development and governance of social and industrial networks; the role of history, culture, and science itself in carrying out analysis and guiding policy; as well as the role of theory, data, and models in guiding decisions.
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Chapter 6: The structured mental model approach

Claudia R. Binder, Regina Schoell and Monika Popp


Environmental problems are increasingly driven by human decisions and actions (for example, Jones et al. 2011) and the world in transition is connected to a variety of risks such as global warming, food security, food safety, water shortage, overuse of resources or loss in biodiversity, and asks for adequate adaption strategies to create a sustainable future. The perception of these risks, however, often differs among social groups. In particular, scholars have found significant differences in risk perception between experts and groups of laypeople (for example, Johnson-Laird 1983; Müller-Böker 1991; Morgan et al. 2002; Jones et al. 2011; Boissiere et al. 2013; Reckien et al. 2013). These differences between experts and laypeople, for example, misconceptions and gaps in the understanding of a specific issue, are often the cause for ineffective risk communication and thus a lack of implementation of adequate policies (Morgan et al. 2002; Zaksek and Arvai 2004). Furthermore, risk communication not only often fails, but ‘poor risk communication can create [even] threats larger than those posed by the risks that they describe’ (Morgan et al. 2002, p. 4). Therefore, methods to better analyze differences in risk perception between experts and laypeople, to understand their origin and to develop adequate policies or communication concepts to overcome them are needed.

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