Characterizing public perceptions of social and cultural impacts in policy decisions

Nathan F. Dieckmann, Robin Gregory, Terre Satterfield, Marcus Mayorga, Paul Slovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Social scientists and community advocates have expressed concerns that many social and cultural impacts important to citizens are given insufficient weight by decision makers in public policy decision-making. In two large cross-sectional surveys, we examined public perceptions of a range of social, cultural, health, economic, and environmental impacts. Findings suggest that valued impacts are perceived through an initial lens that highlights both tangibility (how difficult it is to understand, observe, and make changes to an impact) and scope (how broadly an impact applies). Valued impacts thought to be less tangible and narrower in scope were perceived to have less support by both decision makers and the public. Nearly every valued impact was perceived to have more support from the public than from decision makers, with the exception of three economic considerations (revenues, profits, and costs). The results also demonstrate that many valued impacts do not fit neatly into the single-category distinctions typically used as part of impact assessments and cost–benefit analyses. We provide recommendations for practitioners and suggest ways that these results can foster improvements to the quality and defensibility of risk and impact assessments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020491118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Jun 15 2021


  • Cultural
  • Policy decisions
  • Psychometric
  • Social
  • Valued impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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