9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Zoonotic Risk Building I, 2E4

Risk perceptions of zoonoses in text vs. images: The impact of the social representations of animals

Lay appraisals of risk rely not so much on perceptions of risk per se as on the social representations of the risks at stake (Joffe, 2003). In the case of zoonoses, i.e. diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans, perceptions of risk may be anchored in the social representations of animals and in the social practices that put humans at risk from animals. The animals' perceived utility to humans, their status in the human culture, and the wider ideology of speciesism (Singer, 1990) can influence the perceptions of risk of zoonoses. The present research investigated how people perceived danger and risk of zoonoses from animals, and explored whether presenting animals in images vs. text would influence the perceptions of risk. A card-sorting task was adopted, its open-ended format allowing the researchers to explore the reasoning behind the sorting of the elements. 25 target animals, including insects, mammals, and arachnids, were represented in both text and image cards, but separately. 12 participants were allocated to one of the two conditions, and completed 3 free and 3 structured sorts, the latter asking them to sort the animals in terms of their dangerousness, their likelihood of transmitting disease, and the emotions that they aroused in the participants. The results provide a pictorial representation of the extent to which the elements were viewed as similar or as different to each other. In both the danger and the disease sorts, the insects and the arachnids were grouped together and separately from the mammals, regardless of the study condition. The animals' perceived likelihood to transmit disease was underpinned by their categorization as dirty and as scavenger in the free sorts. More animals were perceived as likely to transmit disease in the image than in the text condition. In this talk we will reflect on the implications of using text vs. images in relation to the research on risk of zoonoses. We will discuss the results in relation to the social and ideological contexts in which the social representations of animals and the risk of zoonoses are constructed.