On March 11, 2011, the Tōhoku earthquake and following tsunami that caused Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster were noted around the world. The next day, the fear of radiation had reached epidemic proportions: in places as far away as Finland, iodine pills were already sold out.
The term “Risk Perception Gap” is used to describe a situation in which our fears are not proportional to the facts: we don’t worry even if scientific evidence suggests that we should, or, on the contrary, we are afraid even though there is almost no risk at all. The Risk Perception Gap can pose more negative effects on health than the risk itself. Such effects include, for example, stress-related health problems. The Risk Perception Gap can also lead to situations where we make choices that create additional risks.
Examples of the problems created by the Risk Perception Gap can be clearly seen in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. A nationwide health survey of Japanese school children found that children from the Fukushima prefecture were getting increasingly obese compared to children living elsewhere in Japan. Among six-year-old boys, the rate of obesity grew from 6.1 percent in 2010 to 11.4 percent in 2012. The rise in obesity was suggested to be a consequence of the fear of radiation, because children did not exercise as much outdoors as they did prior to the disaster.
“The Psychology of Risk Perception: Fear, Facts, and Fukushima” on Thursday, June 27 will review the reasons for the Risk Perception Gap. The first part of the session will concentrate on evaluating why the Risk Perception Gap exists. It is led by David Ropeik, Instructor in the Harvard University School of Continuing Education and author of the blog “Risk: Reason and Reality.” The second part will review the reactions to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster both on a local and global scale. It is led by Hajime Hikino, who has covered the Fukushima disaster extensively and is the Science Editor for the Chunichi Shimbun magazine.