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Psychological and Social Dimensions of Audience Receptivity to Risk Messages

Award No.: 
Principal Investigator: 
Robert Littlefield
PI Organization: 
North Dakota State University
Problem Addressed: Risk communication warns individuals of potential crises in an effort to mitigate harms. We know that individuals do not heed warnings and often experience devastating effects. While definitions of exist in the literature, they reflect a managerial perspective. This ethnocentric approach excludes the cultural perspectives of individuals of diverse groups, particularly Native Americans. The absence of a clear understanding of how these individuals conceptualize catastrophes compromises the ability of communicators to construct and transmit risk messages effectively. Thus, this project investigated the psychological and social dimensions of how individuals of different ethnic and cultural groups perceive catastrophic events. Further, the impact of intentionality and how that influences source, type of information, and amount was identified. Methods Used: Using a culture-centered approach, we (1) involved as co-researchers individuals from four tribal colleges in North Dakota, (2) conducted focus groups in four tribal communities to identify perspectives of catastrophic events, the need for and source of information sought in catastrophic situations, and the impact of intentionality based upon the spheres of ethnocentricity research we previously conducted. Project Outcomes: This project provided the data for a doctoral dissertation for Kimberly Cowden (Co-PI) who has been a research fellow for the NCFPD throughout her graduate study in pursuit of the Ph.D. The findings from this dissertation served as the basis for research pertaining to food system security. In addition, this project (1) generated manuscripts/reports suitable for presentation at academic and professional conferences or meetings, (2) served as the basis of manuscripts submitted for publication in academic and professional journals, (3) provided sound data to the Education Group for integration into training and curricular materials being developed, (4) promoted greater involvement in food system defense programs by members of Native American Nations and minority serving institutions (e.g., tribal colleges) in North Dakota. Specific End Users: The findings from this study provided new, critical information for the Department of Homeland Security as it seeks to prepare for an actual catastrophic event of intentional food contamination. Those groups within the NCFPD who interact with diverse publics will benefit, as well as risk communication educators training the next generation of leaders. Food safety spokespeople in agencies and industry working with different cultural communities will use the provided information to develop risk and crisis communication plans needed in the event of a catastrophic intentional contamination of the food system.
Analytic Methods Utilized: