van Kleef E, Fischer AR, Khan M, Frewer LJ. Risk and Benefit Perceptions of Mobile Phone and Base Station Technology in Bangladesh. Risk Anal. April 8, 2010 Ahead of print.
Studies on perception of risk and benefits associated with mobile technology have been conducted in developed countries. Due to cultural and economic differences, results of these studies cannot be directly extrapolated to the developing countries. Because of limited terrestrial telephone infrastructures in some developing countries, the need for mobile phone networks may be perceived as more immediate and the benefits as more profound. The knowledge of perception of risks and benefits from mobile phone technology can help develop risk communication and risk management policies.
The objective of this study was to increase the knowledge about consumers’ perception of risks and benefits associated with mobile phone technology in Bangladesh as a representative of developing countries.
The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, a small qualitative study was conducted to identify issues of potential importance. This study included 13 participants selected to represent citizens of both sexes (8 men, 5 women), various ages (range from 15 to 62 years), place of residence (9 participants from Dhaka and 4 from a rural area outside Dhaka), economic situation and education (2 students, 3 participants with maximum of four-year schooling, three of intermediate to highly educated and 5 had no formal education). The participants were asked at personal interviews about their perceptions of risk and benefits associated with mobile phone technology, about the participants’ trust in the authorities regulating mobile phones and base stations, and what people in their social environment think about mobile phones. The participants were also asked about any issues that they considered important but that was not discussed. The second phase (survey) was conducted in a sample of 500 Bangladeshi citizens selected to be as representative as possible of the national population in terms of age, gender and socioeconomic status. More than 50% of the survey participants had no formal education, which was in line with the educational profile of the Bangladeshi population. Almost 64% of the survey participants reported using a mobile phone every day. The survey instrument for the second phase was developed on the basis of results of the first phase, interviews with Bangladeshi experts and key academic literature.
All participants were very positive about the benefits of mobile phone technology: the ability to communicate with family and friends; the ability to convey emergency news in relation to threatening situations which is highly relevant because Bangladesh often experience natural disasters. Several participants reported using the mobile phone to obtain market information. Perceived risks were primarily related to crime and security (such as theft and robbery), and also to annoyance by unknown callers. Generally, participants had difficulty articulating health concerns, and these health concerns were influenced by others (participants indicated that they heard about health problems from somebody else). Some participants expressed concerns about addictive nature of mobile phones, increased accident risk if mobile phone is used while driving. Participants were neutral or positive about base stations, which represented for them the opportunity to communicate and advances in technology and society. It was difficult to most participants to describe negative aspects of base stations. Among those aspects, high costs of establishing base stations, “wastage of space”, and the possibility of falling during storm and damage to people, houses and crops were mentioned. A few participants wondered if there was a higher risk of developing cancer because of base stations. Trust in mobile phone companies was relatively high among the participants.
Interpretation and Conclusion
Differences in culture, demographics, economy and geography, as shown in this study, influence the way people deal with risks and benefits. For example, unlike in Western countries where concerns focus on the effects on health of EMFs emitted from mobile phones and base stations, in Bangladesh health concerns were not a priority. Bangladeshi citizens were primarily concerned about crime related to mobile phones and about damage that base stations can cause during storms. In contrast to negative reactions in some developed countries regarding base stations, in Bangladesh base stations were viewed positively as symbols of progress. Therefore, in order to develop effective risk communication and management policies, risk and benefit perceptions should be assessed in local cultural context.