Abstract: Public risk perception of hazardous events such as contagious outbreaks, terrorist attacks, and climate change are difficult-to-anticipate social phenomena. It is unclear how risk information will spread through social networks, how laypeople influence each other, and what social dynamics generate public opinion. We examine how messages detailing risks are transmitted from one person to another in experimental diffusion chains and how people influence each other as they propagate this information. Although the content of a message is gradually lost over repeated social transmissions, subjective perceptions of risk propagate and amplify due to social influence. These results provide quantitative insights into the public response to risk and the formation of often unnecessary fears and anxieties.
Moussaïd, M., Brighton, H., & Gaissmaier, W. (2015). The amplification of risk in experimental diffusion chains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 112(18), 5631-5636. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1421883112