The psychometric paradigm refers to a research approach used in explaining how laypeople (nonexperts) perceive various hazards. Results of these studies suggest that laypeople use qualitative information, such as perceptions of dreadfulness and newness, and not simply statistical information, such as probability, in their intuitive risk assessments. The “cognitive map” that resulted from studies utilizing the psychometric paradigm became the icon of risk perception research. Engineers, public policy people, and others who deal with public reactions to risks often rely on the psychometric paradigm for a better understanding of laypeople's risk perception. This understanding continues to underlie many approaches to risk communication practice.

In the 1970s, proponents of nuclear power, who emphasized the small probability of an accident, became puzzled by the reactions of laypeople, some ...

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