Bo Nielsen J, Elstein A, Gyrd-Hansen D, Kildemoes HW, Kristiansen IS, Støvring H. Effects of alternative styles of risk information on EMF risk perception. Bioelectromagnetics. June 1, 2010. Ahead of print.

It is a challenge for experts to communicate to the public the potential health risks of exposure to new technologies with unknown effects, such as cell phones and communication towers. No study has yet definitively shown that cell phones and communication towers pose a significant health risk to the public.

The aim of this study was to examine if/how different types of information on new technologies with unknown health effects may influence a person’s perception of the possible risk and behaviour regarding this new technology.

An internet based questionnaire on cell phones and communication towers was completed by 1,687 Danish citizens that were asked questions about the use of cell phones before and/or after reading information on potential health risks. The website randomly assigned one of three types of information on cell phone systems to participants: 1) a short questionnaire that mostly included facts and technical information; 2) a longer and more technical questionnaire that explained how using a cell phone may or may not affect health; 3) a short statement with explanations on how to reduce the possible risks from cell phone radiation. Respondents were asked if the information they read was useful, informative, comprehensible and trustworthy and whether their future use of cell phones would change after reading the information given.

Participants who received information on how to reduce exposure from radiation emitted from cell phones found it more useful, comprehensible and trustworthy than people who received the other two types of information. Actions on how to reduce exposure increased the concern people had about the possible health hazards of exposure to radiation, but did not influence their future use of mobile phones.

The public prefers information about health risks of a new and unknown technology in the format of brief statements on how to handle the risk rather than lengthy and technical information, even though this type of information increases concern people have about the technology.

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