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Mountains And Handrails: Linking Theories Of Attribution, Risk Perception, And Communication To Investigate Risk Management In Three U.S. National Parks
Psychologists and sociologists alike have contributed to our understanding of how individuals attribute the causes of-and responsibility for preventing-events both common and extraordinary. This dissertation envisioned responsibility and risk holistically by applying attribution theory on both an individual level (i.e., how individuals explain the causes of accidents and unintentional injury) and within a social context (i.e., how they perceive their responsibility to promote safety in public spaces). The research integrated risk perception concepts into attribution theory, examining how the perceived nature of risks (e.g., controllability, desirability) and the context in which they are encountered (i.e., the novel setting of a national park) may affect attribution of responsibility. Finally, the dissertation examined how sociocultural variables (e.g., past experiences in a setting, group memberships) and exposure to "official" (i.e., institutionally-scripted) and "unofficial" (i.e., unscripted) park-related communication relate to attribution of responsibility for causing and preventing visitor injury. The study pursued these goals in the context of three U.S. national park units, Mount Rainier National Park (Washington), Olympic National Park (Washington) and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania and New Jersey) using in-depth interviews with park employees and volunteers, and an online survey of employees, volunteers, and visitors. Results suggested differences between employees and visitors in attributing the cause of a hypothetical visitor accident, as well as between those with varying levels of experience in a park setting, and with varying perceptions of the "controllability" of park-related risk. The tendency among all respondents to interpret visitor accidents as "user errors" or "acts of God" also corresponded to certain attributional processes, such as "blaming the victim." Among visitors, differences in attributing responsibility for preventing accidents were observed on the basis of individual characteristics, including activity choice and demographics (e.g., age, sex, race/ethnicity). Likewise, among employees, attributions of responsibility varied by occupational division, but the idea of a "shared" responsibility for preventing visitor accidents was commonly understood as temporal, distributed, and spatial. These and other results suggest various management implications, such as whether the NPS should consider co-orientation or attribution "re-training" in order to counteract "misalignment" of attributions of responsibility between park staff and visitors.
risk communication; risk perception; national parks
McComas, Katherine Anne
Stedman, Richard Clark; Lewenstein, Bruce Voss; Scherer, Clifford Wayne
Ph.D. of Communication
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis