The overwhelming majority of health behavior studies have reduced the risk perceptions construct to a rating of hazard probability and a rating of severity. Significant positive associations are often, but not always, found between perceived probability and subsequent adoption of health behaviors. Associations between perceived severity and health behaviors are also found, but less often. Nevertheless, with a small number of exceptions, community interventions designed to encourage healthy behaviors by increasing risk perceptions are usually unsuccessful.
Developments in a number of research domains suggest that the reduction of risk perceptions to probability and severity estimates is probably inadequate. For example, recent research on emotional reactions to threat, experience-based and implicit attitudes, the accuracy and variability of risk judgments, and cognitive representation of probability all provide insights that could enrich our understanding of the nature of perceived risk and the processes by which risk perceptions affect risk and precautionary behaviors.