March Responses

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Susan A. Bandes, Peter H. Huang, and Michael Stocker each respond to Dan M. Kahan’s Two Conceptions of Emotion in Risk Regulation, 156 U. Pa. L. Rev. 741 (2008).  In his article, Professor Kahan mainly examines two competing theories of risk perception, the “irrational weigher” theory and the “cultural evaluator theory.” Kahan prefers the latter theory, which suggests, in part, that “individuals are cognitively motivated to reject information about risk when they perceive that accepting it would threaten their defining group commitments.” He argues that “[t]o avoid this reaction . . . information about risks must be framed in a way that affirms rather than denigrates recipients’ cultural identities . . . .”

Professor Bandes, in her Response, Emotions, Values, and the Construction of Risk, notes that when dealing with emotions and public policymaking “[t]he challenge is to encourage the helpful emotions, and discourage, educate, or cabin the unhelpful ones.” She argues that “Values and the emotions that animate them should be assessed in light of our democratic aspirations” and concludes that the “process of defining and acting upon our collective values . . . is . . . essential to the working of participatory democracy . . . .”

Professor Huang, in his Response, Diverse Conceptions of Emotions in Risk Regulation, adds to Kahan’s analysis by focusing on the role that positive emotions can play in affecting risk perceptions. He acknowledges that fear is a strong motivating factor in risk perception, but argues that we should not ignore the influence of positive emotions “including courage and pride.” Professor Huang also emphasizes the problem of heterogeneity in the audience and warns that “no single model of emotions in risk perception can accurately describe all roles that all emotions play for all people, in all situations, during all times, facing all risks.”

Finally, Professor Stocker, in his Response, Some Questions About Emotions and Risk Evaluation, examines Kahan’s account of the rational weigher, irrational weigher, and cultural evaluator theories and probes for weakness in each theory’s treatment of emotion and risk evaluation. He observes that the challenge in capturing the relationship between emotion and risk results from the fact that “the social values expressed by . . . emotions are typically available only in outline.” He asks us, in conclusion, to consider just “how difficult it is . . . to give a ‘full and final’ account of what patriotism, love, being a good lawyer, etc., [really] requires . . . .”

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