Cousin ME, Siegrist M. (2010). The public's knowledge of mobile communication and its influence on base station siting preferences. Health, Risk & Society. 12(3):231–250.
Lay people’s reactions to mobile phones are different from their reactions to mobile phone base stations. Residents often insist that mobile phone base station be located outside residential areas for fear of negative health consequences. At the same time, most are regular mobile phone users. They may not know that, to reduce exposure to radiofrequency radiation while phoning, base stations should be located close to the users. In this connection, it is important to be aware of lay people’s knowledge and beliefs regarding mobile communication.
The objective of this study was to learn more about lay people’s intuitive understanding and knowledge of technical aspects of mobile communication and their preferences for base station locations.
A mail survey was conducted in the German-speaking part of Switzerland using a random sample of addresses from the electronic directory. The questions belonged to various knowledge domains: network building, cell phone, base station, interaction patterns, regulations, and radiation in general. In addition to these questions, respondents were asked to complete two tasks using pictograms about relative exposure magnitudes in two situations. Also, they were asked to select a variant of a base station location on a diagram (a map of a village and its surroundings). Questionnaires were completed by 765 people (response rate 41%). Forty-two percent of the respondents were female and 58% were male. Age range was from 19 to 105 years. Ninety one percent of the respondents owned a cell phone; 47% of them reported using it once a day or more and 44% - several times a week or month. Seven percent indicated that they protested against locating a base station in their neighborhood. Nine percent reported that they were professionally related to EMF topics.
Respondents’ knowledge varied across domains. There were more correct answers to questions related to network building and cell phones, somewhat fewer correct answers to questions related to base stations. Questions about regulations, interaction patterns and radiation in general were answered correctly to a much lesser extent. Most incorrect answers were obtained for questions about regulation and radiation in general. Many respondents answered “don’t know” to questions about interaction patterns, base stations and cell phones. Few respondents answered correctly to the pictogram tasks. On the diagram, most respondents selected a scenario with one base station located away from the village at the edge of the woods. The respondents’ knowledge was dependent on socio-demographic and behavioral factors. Males, respondents aged 18-50 years, those with higher education and with occupational contact with EMFs knew more, as did respondents who were daily mobile phone users, who did not suffer from self-reported electrosensitivity and who protested against base stations.
The results suggest that in lay people’s understanding, base stations account for more exposure than cell phones. The lack of knowledge, especially about interaction between cell phones and base stations, leads to unfavorable preferences regarding base station locations. The respondents demonstrated little knowledge about regulatory measures to restrict public exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Based on the results of their study, the authors suggest that risk communication focus more on informing citizens about interaction patterns, comparison of exposure magnitudes, regulatory topics and the rationale behind base station location. The needs of different groups of people should be taken into account.