Trust is generally recognized as important for risk-relevant behavior but research suggests that trust in different organizations may have varying effects. This research advances the literature by testing two hypotheses which postulate that this variability can be explained by risk perception. We collected data from 351 anglers regarding their trust in nine organizations whose efforts are relevant to dioxin contamination in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Watershed, risk perceptions, and self-reports of risky behavior (i.e. consumption of local fish identified as especially likely to contain contaminants). As hypothesized (H1), the negative effect of trust in two agencies—the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored River Walker Program (RWP)—on risky behavior was significantly mediated by risk perception but these effects differed from each other such that trust in the MDNR was associated with increased perceptions of risk while trust in the RWP was associated with decreased perceptions of benefit. Also as hypothesized (H2), the positive effect of trust in Dow Chemical Company on risky behavior was significantly mediated by risk perception such that increased trust in Dow was associated with reduced risk perception. The current results lend credence to arguments regarding the importance of specificity in the target of trust and advance this literature by suggesting that differential effects on risk perception help explain this variability. Thus, organizations whose efforts focus on risk communication appear ideally situated to reduce risky behavior through a negative impact on risk perception. Other organizations, however, may run the risk of increasing risky behavior if their efforts result in reduced perceptions of risk.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
- Social Sciences(all)
- Strategy and Management