Ann Bostrom

University of Washington
Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance

Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance
Parrington Hall, University of Washington
Seattle, WA
USA
98195-3055
abostrom@uw.edu |  Visit Personal Website


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My research focuses on two broad, related questions about risk perceptions, values and decisions: How do people understand and make decisions about environmental, health and technology-related risks? More specifically, what are their mental models of the underlying hazardous processes, and how do their mental models influence their risk decisions?

Citation:
Bostrom, Ann, Rebecca E. Morss, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Julie L. Demuth, Heather Lazrus, and Rebecca Hudson, 2016. "A mental models study of hurricane forecast and warning production, communication, and decision-making." Weather, Climate, and Society 8 (2): 111-129.
Abstract: The study reported here explores how to enhance the public value of hurricane forecast and warning information by examining the entire warning process. A mental models research approach is applied to address three risk management tasks critical to warnings for extreme weather events: 1) understanding the risk decision and action context for hurricane warnings, 2) understanding the commonalities and conflicts in interpretations of that context and associated risks, and 3) exploring the practical implications of these insights for hurricane risk communication and management. To understand the risk decision and action context, the study develops a decision-focused model of the hurricane forecast and warning system on the basis of results from individual mental models interviews with forecasters from the National Hurricane Center (n = 4) and the Miami–South Florida Weather Forecast Office (n = 4), media broadcasters (n = 5), and public officials (n = 6), as well as a group decision-modeling session with a subset of the forecasters. Comparisons across professionals reveal numerous shared perceptions, as well as some critical differences. Implications for improving extreme weather event forecast and warning systems and risk communication are threefold: 1) promote thinking about forecast and warning decisions as a system, with informal as well as formal elements; 2) evaluate, coordinate, and consider controlling the proliferation of forecast and warning information products; and 3) further examine the interpretation and representation of uncertainty within the hurricane forecast and warning system as well as for users.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0033.1
Citation:
Dunn, Peter T., Alicia YE Ahn, Ann Bostrom, and John E. Vidale, 2016. "Perceptions of earthquake early warnings on the US West Coast." International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction 20: 112-122.
Abstract: Earthquake early warning systems can provide seconds to minutes of lead time by alerting people that an earthquake has started and shaking is coming, enabling them to take protective action. To examine how earthquake early warnings might be received on the U.S. West coast, we conducted surveys of residents in the west coast states of Washington, Oregon and California (N=2595) through Google paywall intercept surveys administered in three rounds between September 2014 and September 2015. A majority of residents in all states (61% WA, 54% OR, 70% CA) have personally experienced an earthquake. Those who have experienced an earthquake perceive higher risk and greater potential for effectively reducing that risk with earthquake early warning. Although respondents feel that federal and local government should pay for earthquake early warning, almost two-thirds report being willing to pay something for “an Earthquake Early Alert app on [their] smartphone or personal computer.” Median willingness to pay per month is $1. Perceived risk, perceived effectiveness of earthquake early warning, and anticipated or experienced emotional responses to earthquakes influence judgments of and preferences for earthquake early warning, although personal experience of earthquakes conditions these influences. Further, highly visible mass media communications such as the New Yorker article “The Really Big One” and the movie “San Andreas” increase earthquake risk perceptions. Overall, interest in and support for earthquake early warning on the U.S. West Coast appears strong.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2016.10.019
Citation:
Dryden, Rachel, M. Granger Morgan, Ann Bostrom, and Wändi Bruine de Bruin. "Public Perceptions of How Long Air Pollution and Carbon Dioxide Remain in the Atmosphere." Risk Analysis, forthcoming (online 2017).
Abstract: The atmospheric residence time of carbon dioxide is hundreds of years, many orders of magnitude longer than that of common air pollution, which is typically hours to a few days. However, randomly selected respondents in a mail survey in Allegheny County, PA (N = 119) and in a national survey conducted with MTurk (N = 1,013) judged the two to be identical (in decades), considerably overestimating the residence time of air pollution and drastically underestimating that of carbon dioxide. Moreover, while many respondents believed that action is needed today to avoid climate change (regardless of cause), roughly a quarter held the view that if climate change is real and serious, we will be able to stop it in the future when it happens, just as we did with common air pollution. In addition to assessing respondents’ understanding of how long carbon dioxide and common air pollution stay in the atmosphere, we also explored the extent to which people correctly identified causes of climate change and how their beliefs affect support for action. With climate change at the forefront of politics and mainstream media, informing discussions of policy is increasingly important. Confusion about the causes and consequences of climate change, and especially about carbon dioxide's long atmospheric residence time, could have profound implications for sustained support of policies to achieve reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.
DOI: 10.1111/risa.12856
Citation:
Turaga, Rama Mohana R., Douglas Noonan, and Ann Bostrom. 2015. "Spatial regulation of air toxics hot spots." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 34(2): 298-327.
Abstract: This paper analyzes the potential implications, in terms of net social costs and distribution of risks and abatement costs, of a policy to address the problem of air toxics “hot spots.” The policy we analyze involves regulation of air toxics sources at increasingly finer spatial resolutions. We develop a model of a decisionmaker choosing emission standards within a net cost minimization framework. Empirical application of the model to two counties in Florida demonstrates that regulation at finer resolutions could involve trade-offs between net social costs and equitable distribution of risks and, in some settings, between individual and population risks.
DOI: 10.1002/pam.21820
Citation:
Mossler, Max V., Ann Bostrom, Ryan P. Kelly, Katherine M. Crosman, and Patricia Moy. 2017. "How does framing affect policy support for emissions mitigation? Testing the effects of ocean acidification and other carbon emissions frames." Global Environmental Change, 45, 63-78.
Abstract: Public support for carbon emissions mitigation is crucial to motivate action to address global issues like climate change and ocean acidification (OA). Yet in the public sphere, carbon emissions mitigation policies are typically discussed in the context of climate change and rarely in the context of OA or other global change outcomes. In this paper, we advance research on OA and climate change perceptions and communication, by (i) examining causal beliefs about ocean acidification, and (ii) measuring support for mitigation policies from individuals presented with one of five different policy frames (climate change, global warming, carbon pollution, air pollution, and ocean acidification). Knowledge about OA causes and consequences is more widespread than we anticipated, though still generally low. Somewhat surprisingly, an “air pollution” mitigation frame elicits the highest degree of policy support overall, while “carbon pollution” performs no better than “climate change” or “global warming.” Framing effects are in part contingent on prior knowledge and attitudes, and mediated by concern. Perhaps due to a lack of OA awareness, the OA frame generates the least support overall, although it seems to close the gap in support associated with political orientation: the OA frame increases support among those (few) conservatives who report having heard of OA before the survey. These findings complement previous work on climate change communication and suggest the need for further research into OA as an effective way to engage conservatives in carbon emissions mitigation policy. Potentially even more promising is the air pollution framing.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.04.002
Citation:
Bostrom, Ann. (online 2017). Mental Models and Risk Perceptions Related to Climate Change. Nisbet, Matthew C. (Editor), Shirley S. Ho, Ezra Markowitz, Saffron O'Neill, Mike S. Schafer, and Jagadish Thaker (Assoc. Editors). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.303
Abstract: Mental models are the sets of causal beliefs we “run” in our minds to infer what will happen in a given event or situation. Mental models, like other models, are useful simplifications most of the time. They can, however, lead to mistaken or misleading inferences, for example, if the analogies that inform them are misleading in some regard. The coherence and consistency of mental models a person employs to solve a given problem are a function of that person’s expertise. The less familiar and central a problem is, the less coherent and consistent the mental models brought to bear on that problem are likely to be. For problems such as those posed by anthropogenic climate change, most people are likely to recruit multiple mental models to make judgments and decisions. Common types of mental models of climate change and global warming include: (a) a carbon emissions model, in which global warming is a result of burning fossil fuels thereby emitting CO2, and of deforestation, which both releases sequestered CO2 and decreases the possible sinks that might take CO2 out of the atmosphere; (b) a stratospheric ozone depletion mental model, which conflates stratospheric ozone depletion with global warming; (c) an air pollution mental model, in which global warming is viewed as air pollution; and (d) a weather change model, in which weather and climate are conflated. As social discourse around global warming and climate change has increased, mental models of climate change have become more complex, although not always more coherent. One such complexity is the belief that climate changes according to natural cycles and due to factors beyond human control, in addition to changes resulting from human activities such as burning fossil fuels and releasing other greenhouse gases. As our inference engines, mental models play a central role in problem solving and subjective projections and are hence at the heart of risk perceptions and risk decision-making. However, both perceiving and making decisions about climate change and the risks thereof are affective and social processes foremost.
DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.303
Citation:
de Bruin WB, Bostrom A (2013). Assessing What to Address in Science Communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,110 (Supplement 3), 14062-14068.
Abstract: As members of a democratic society, individuals face complex decisions about whether to support climate change mitigation, vaccinations, genetically modified food, nanotechnology, geoengineering, and so on. To inform people’s decisions and public debate, scientific experts at government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and other organizations aim to provide understandable and scientifically accurate communication materials. Such communications aim to improve people’s understanding of the decision-relevant issues, and if needed, promote behavior change. Unfortunately, existing communications sometimes fail when scientific experts lack information about what people need to know to make more informed decisions or what wording people use to describe relevant concepts. We provide an introduction for scientific experts about how to use mental models research with intended audience members to inform their communication efforts. Specifically, we describe how to conduct interviews to characterize people’s decision-relevant beliefs or mental models of the topic under consideration, identify gaps and misconceptions in their knowledge, and reveal their preferred wording. We also describe methods for designing follow-up surveys with larger samples to examine the prevalence of beliefs as well as the relationships of beliefs with behaviors. Finally, we discuss how findings from these interviews and surveys can be used to design communications that effectively address gaps and misconceptions in people’s mental models in wording that they understand. We present applications to different scientific domains, showing that this approach leads to communications that improve recipients’ understanding and ability to make informed decisions.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1212729110
Citation:
Bostrom A., Böhm G, O'Connor RE (2013), Targeting and Tailoring Climate Change Communications. WIREs Climate Change, 4:447–455.
Abstract: Social marketing studies suggest that targeting segments of the population, by assessing and addressing their values and motives for actions in the design of communications, can improve the effectiveness of health and environmental communications efforts. Guidance for climate change communication now routinely proposes targeting specific audience segments as a fundamental principle, despite ambiguity regarding what specific behaviors to target and a lack of empirical evidence for specific strategies. Audience segmentation strategies proposed to date for climate change communications resemble those used in other social marketing efforts, but can be proprietary or opaque, with little data on the effects of implementing them. Insufficient evidence exists to systematically demonstrate the effectiveness of targeting or tailoring climate change communications per se, other than by reference to related research on health and environmental risk communications. Meta-analyses with systematic literature reviews, however, demonstrate that health risk communications can be more effective at changing attitudes and behaviors if they are tailored to the individual recipients' beliefs about their self-efficacy. The advent of technology-enabled microtargeting is rapidly expanding the opportunities for tailoring and targeting climate change communications and for adding to what we know from using them to make them effective.
DOI: 10.1002/wcc.234
Citation:
Eiser, JR, Bostrom A, Burton I, Johnston DM, McClure J, Paton D, van der Pligt J, White MP. Risk Interpretation and Action: A Conceptual Framework for Responses to Natural Hazards. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction Review Article. Volume 1, October 2012, Pages 5–16.
Abstract: Understanding how people interpret risks and choose actions based on their interpretations is vital to any strategy for disaster reduction. We review relevant literature with the aim of developing a conceptual framework to guide future research in this area. We stress that risks in the context of natural hazards always involve interactions between natural (physical) and human (behavioural) factors. Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty is inadequately described by traditional models of 'rational choice'. Instead, attention needs to be paid to how people's interpretations of risks are shaped by their own experience, personal feelings and values, cultural beliefs and interpersonal and societal dynamics. Furthermore, access to information and capacity for self-protection are typically distributed unevenly within populations. Hence trust is a critical moderator of the effectiveness of any policy for risk communication and public engagement.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2012.05.002
Citation:
Reynolds,Travis W, Ann Bostrom, Daniel Read and M Granger Morgan. 2010. "Now What Do People Know About Global Climate Change? Survey Studies of Educated Laypeople." Risk Analysis 30 (10): 1520-1538.
Abstract: In 1992, a mental-models-based survey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, revealed that educated laypeople often conflated global climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion, and appeared relatively unaware of the role of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in global warming. This study compares those survey results with 2009 data from a sample of similarly well-educated laypeople responding to the same survey instrument. Not surprisingly, following a decade of explosive attention to climate change in politics and in the mainstream media, survey respondents in 2009 showed higher awareness and comprehension of some climate change causes. Most notably, unlike those in 1992, 2009 respondents rarely mentioned ozone depletion as a cause of global warming. They were also far more likely to correctly volunteer energy use as a major cause of climate change; many in 2009 also cited natural processes and historical climatic cycles as key causes. When asked how to address the problem of climate change, while respondents in 1992 were unable to differentiate between general good environmental practices? and actions specific to addressing climate change, respondents in 2009 have begun to appreciate the differences. Despite this, many individuals in 2009 still had incorrect beliefs about climate change, and still did not appear to fully appreciate key facts such as that global warming is primarily due to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the single most important source of this carbon dioxide is the combustion of fossil fuels.
URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01448.x/abstract
Citation:
Bostrom, Ann, Ann Hayward Walker, Tyler Scott, Robert Pavia, Thomas M. Leschine, and Kate Starbird (forthcoming 2015). Oil Spill Response Risk Judgments, Decisions, and Mental Models: Findings from Surveying U.S. Stakeholders and Coastal Residents. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. (online first August 2014)
Abstract: This study applies a mental models survey approach to assess public thinking about oil spills and oil spill response. Based on prior interdisciplinary oil spill response research, the study first applies qualitative interview results and a response risk decision model to the design of a survey instrument. The decision model considers controlled burning, public health and seafood safety. Surveying U.S. coastal residents (36,978 pairs of responses) through Google Insights identifies beliefs and gaps in understanding as well as related values and preferences about oil spills, and oil spill responses. A majority of respondents are concerned about economic impacts of major oil spills, and tend to see ocean ecosystems as fragile. They tend to see information about chemical dispersants as more important than ecological baseline information, and dispersants as toxic, persistent, and less effective than other response options. Although respondents regard laboratory studies as predictive of the effects of oil and of controlled burning, they are less confident that scientists agree on the toxicity and effectiveness of dispersants. The results illustrate opportunities to reframe discussions of oil spill response in terms of tradeoffs between response options, and new possibilities for assessing public opinions and beliefs during events.
DOI: 10.1080/10807039.2014.947865
Citation:
Bostrom, A., O'Connor, R. E., Böhm, G., Hanss, D., Bodi, O., Ekström, F., Halder, P., Jeschke, S., Mack, B., Qu, M., Rosentrater, L., Sandve, A., & Sælensminde, I. (2012). Causal thinking and support for climate change policies: International survey findings. Global Environmental Change: Human and Policy Dimensions, 22, 210-222, 2012.
Abstract: Few comparative international studies describe the climate change policies people are willing to support and the reasons for their support of different policies. Using survey data from 664 economics and business undergraduates in Austria, Bangladesh, Finland, Germany, Norway, and the United States, we explore how perceived risk characteristics and mental models of climate change influence support for policy alternatives. General green policies such as funding research on renewable technologies and planting trees were the overwhelmingly most popular policy alternatives. Around half the students support carbon reduction policies such as requiring higher car fuel efficiency and increasing taxes on fossil fuels. Least popular were engineering alternatives such as fertilizing the oceans and replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power. Variations among nations are generally small. Support for different policy alternatives corresponds with different causal thinking. Those who hold a pollution model of the causes of climate change, tend to blame environmental harms (e.g., air pollution from toxic chemicals), see general green policy alternatives as effective, and support general green policies. Support of carbon reduction strategies is associated with seeing carbon emissions as the cause and reducing carbon emissions as effective solutions. Support of engineering solutions increases with identifying volcanoes among causes and regarding engineering solutions as effective. Although these international students agree that climate change is a threatening problem, their causal thinking correlates with support for different mitigative policy actions, with the most popular ones not necessarily the most effective.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.09.012
Citation:
Wood M, Bostrom A, Bridges T, Linkov I. Cognitive Mapping Tools: Review and Risk Management Needs. Risk Analysis, Volume 32, Issue 8, pages 1333–1348, August 2012.
Abstract: Risk managers are increasingly interested in incorporating stakeholder beliefs and other human factors into the planning process. Effective risk assessment and management requires understanding perceptions and beliefs of involved stakeholders, and how these beliefs give rise to actions that influence risk management decisions. Formal analyses of risk manager and stakeholder cognitions represent an important first step. Techniques for diagramming stakeholder mental models provide one tool for risk managers to better understand stakeholder beliefs and perceptions concerning risk, and to leverage this new understanding in developing risk management strategies. This article reviews three methodologies for assessing and diagramming stakeholder mental models--decision-analysis-based mental modeling, concept mapping, and semantic web analysis--and assesses them with regard to their ability to address risk manager needs.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01767.x
Citation:
Bostrom, Ann, and Ragnar E. Lofstedt. 2010. "Nanotechnology Risk Communication Past and Prologue." Risk Analysis 30 (11): 1645–1662.
Abstract: Nanotechnologies operate at atomic, molecular, and macromolecular scales, at scales where matter behaves differently than at larger scales and quantum effects can dominate. Nanotechnologies have captured the imagination of science fiction writers as science, engineering, and industry have leapt to the challenge of harnessing them. Applications are proliferating. In contrast, despite recent progress the regulatory landscape is not yet coherent, and public awareness of nanotechnology remains low. This has led risk researchers and critics of current nanotechnology risk communication efforts to call for proactive strategies that do more than address facts, that include and go beyond the public participation stipulated by some government acts. A redoubling of nanotechnology risk communication efforts could enable consumer choice and informed public discourse about regulation and public investments in science and safety.
URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01521.x/full

Substantive Focus:
Environmental Policy PRIMARY
Health Policy
Science and Technology Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Analysis and Evaluation PRIMARY

Keywords

RISK COMMUNICATION RISK PERCEPTION RISK ANALYSIS RISK MANAGEMENT GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE NANOTECHNOLOGY RISK POLICY