# Percent of audience who perceive risk in a given behavior

Percent of audience who perceive risk in a given behavior

# Percent of audience who perceive risk in a given behavior

“Risk perception” is defined as one’s beliefs about the likelihood of experiencing negative or harmful consequences.  This definition comprises two distinct dimensions: (a) susceptibility to a threat, and (b) severity of that threat.  Examples of a given behavior are sex without a condom, female genital cutting, and multiple sex partners. “Behavior” refers to the result the program aims to achieve among members of the population in question.

To calculate susceptibility to a threat:

(Number of audience members who perceive risk in a given behavior/Total number surveyed in intended audience) x 100

To calculate severity of that threat:

(Number of audience members who perceive severity of risk in a given behavior/Total number surveyed in intended audience) x 100

Data Requirement(s):

Self-report from quantitative instruments (surveys) or qualitative data collection method

This indicator can be disaggregated by audience characteristics (age, sex, geographic location, rural/urban status, or other characteristics of interest to the program).

Quantitative: national, regional, or local sample surveys with members– preferably a representative sample– of the intended audience

Qualitative: focus groups, in-depth interviews, pilesorts, and ethnographic observation (although the latter generally does not yield a precise numerical result

Risk is the likelihood of a specific event occurring multiplied by the magnitude of consequences associated with that event (Douglas, 1985). Perceived risk parallels this definition as it is (a) one’s perceptions of susceptibility or vulnerability to a threat (e.g., What are the chances that a specific event will occur? What are my chances of getting pregnant if I am abstinent? What are my chances of getting pregnant if I use a contraceptive every time I have sex?  What are my chances of getting pregnant if my partner and I don’t practice any family planning?), and (b) one’s perceptions of the severity of that threat (e.g., How serious are the negative consequences associated with the event?  What negative consequences are associated with getting pregnant? How serious or bad are these consequences?).  Presumably the individual thinks of the social, economic, and emotional consequences, in addition to physical consequences such as sickness or death.  For example, “How bad would it be for me and my family if I got pregnant?”

Risk perceptions, commonly referred to as “perceived threat,” act as the motivation promoting behavior change (although perceived positive benefits can also motivate change).  Research has shown that individuals can have all of the knowledge and skills needed, have positive beliefs, attitudes, and intentions toward a specific behavior, yet they avoid engaging in the recommended behavior.  They need a trigger to motivate action.  Much research has shown that perceived threat is a powerful trigger to action (Witte, 1992 and 1998). Evaluators can expect desirable behavioral responses when people have strong risk perceptions coupled with strong beliefs of self-efficacy toward the recommended response.

Evaluators may expect undesirable behavioral responses when people have strong risk perceptions but they doubt their ability to do a recommended response (e.g., negotiating condom use), and/or they doubt the recommended response will work to avert the threat (e.g., strong rumors circulate in some countries that condoms are contaminated with HIV and actually transmit the infection).  Therefore, evaluators must measure perceptions of efficacy when they assess perceptions of risk, so that program staff can devise the best communication messages.

communication, attitude, knowledge, behavior