Context, Cultural Bias, and Health Risk Perception: The 'Everyday' Nature of Pesticide Policy Preferences in London, Calgary, and Halifax
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Risk perception and the cultural theory of risk have often been contrasted in relation to risk-related policy making; however, the local context in which risks are experienced, an important component of everyday decision making, remains understudied. What is unclear is the extent to which localized community beliefs and behaviors depend on larger belief systems about risk (i.e., worldviews). This article reports on a study designed to understand the relative importance of health risk perceptions (threat of harm); risk-related worldviews (cultural biases); and the experiences of local context (situated risk) for predicting risk-related policy preferences regarding cosmetic pesticides. Responses to a random telephone questionnaire are used to compare residents’ risk perceptions, cultural biases, and pesticide bylaw preferences in Calgary (Alberta), Halifax (Nova Scotia), and London (Ontario), Canada. Logistic regression shows that the most important determinants of pesticide bylaw preference are risk perception, lack of benefit, and pesticide “abstinence.” Though perception of health risk is the best single predictor of differences in bylaw preferences, social factors such as gender and situated risk factors like conflict over chemical pesticides, are also important. Though cultural biases are not important predictors of pesticide bylaw preference, as in other studies, they are significant predictors of health risk perception. Pesticide bylaw preference is therefore more than just a health risk perception or worldview issue; it is also about how health risk becomes situated—contextually—in the experiences of residents’ everyday lives.