Intuitive risk analysis: Consumers’ knowledge of toxicology and risk perceptions of chemical products

  • Date:
  • Time: 14:00 - 15:00
  • Location: Charles Thackrah room 1.05
  • Speaker: Angela Bearth, ETH-Zurich


In one of the articles on experts’ and lay-people’s perceptions of toxicological principles, Kraus, Malmfors, and Slovic (1992) coined the expression ‘intuitive toxicology.’ The term describes how people relied on their senses of sight, taste or smell to detect toxicological risks before the science of risk analysis was introduced. Consumer products or substances in these products (e.g., food additives, cleaning products) are put through intensive risk assessment and are labelled in case they represent an actual risk to consumers. However, these procedures are complex and controversy exists between experts in regards to the uncertainty linked to them. Moreover, previous literature found that consumers underestimate the health risks of chemical substances seen as natural (e.g., eco cleaning products), irrespective of the presence or absence of other risk information. Generally, consumers lack the necessary background information, time or motivation to judge the risks of chemical substances and the uncertainty linked to risk assessment, and rely on heuristics and on their trust in different (potentially biased) information sources. In this talk, I would like to revisit Kraus et al.’s (1992) seminal work on ‘intuitive toxicology’ by first, presenting several studies on people’s knowledge and perception of chemical substances and the principles of toxicology. Second, these findings will be related to specific applications, such as pesticides and household cleaning products. Lastly, implications for risk research, management and practice will be discussed.



Dr. Angela Bearth  Dr Angela Bearth works as a senior researcher at the Consumer Behavior Group of the ETH Zurich (Switzerland) since 2017. Her research focuses on consumer behaviour, behaviour change and public’s perception and acceptance of innovative and emerging technologies. In her research, she focuses on a variety of issues, such as the public’s knowledge about toxicological principles and their perceptions of scientific uncertainty regarding innovative technologies (e.g., gene editing, food irradiation, pesticides). Angela completed her PhD at ETH Zurich in the area of food risk perception, and then worked for three years at the institute for Marketing Management before she returned to the ETH Zurich.