I had a great time at the SAMSI workshop on risk, where an interdisciplinary group of researchers were invited to discuss their research on risk and policy. Some of the applications addressed included transportation, homeland security, epidemiology, and pharmeceuticals (Check out the workshop web site to download slides). With the focus on public policy, the topics were right up my alley. SAMSI has a year-long program on Risk Analysis, Extreme Events and Decision Theory, which combines the fields of statistics, operations research, and economics.
Elke Weber from Columbia University game one of the most interesting talks. She gave a tour through the psychological research on risk perception. She started with economic approaches, such as utility theory, and then addressed other research that took situation and context into account. She developed the Cushion Hypothesis, which explains why Chinese seem less risk averse than Americans. The They found that cultural collectivism protects against catastrophic losses, and people from collectivist cultures perceive less risk. In addition, women seem to perceive risks to be greater, but there are no inherent gender differences in risk attitude (Women are more risk averse than men in nearly all domains except the social domain). But all men can’t be lumped together–the cultural minorities (i.e., white men in the US) perceive lower risks than any other group. Dr. Weber explained that this is due to the majority learning to “manage” risks rather than “take” risks. Despite Dr. Weber’s extensive research into this area, she was supportive of modifying normative models that use utility theory to account for these issues (such as prospectus theory) rather than throw the normative models away.
Thanks to the SAMSI team for all their hard work!