Understanding Americans’ Perceptions of Nuclear Weapons Risk and Subsequent Behavior

Ashley Lytle, Kristyn Karl


Since the end of the Cold War, widespread discourse about nuclear weapons risk has disappeared, resulting in a lack of awareness of nuclear threats among U.S. citizens. Yet recent events have made nuclear weapons risk salient again, and some experts believe the risk of nuclear attack is higher today than it was during the height of the Cold War. Across two surveys of more than 1,500 American citizens, we demonstrate that most individuals do not think about nuclear weapons risk or the possibility of nuclear attack. We find evidence that age and media usage are important individual characteristics that affect perceptions of nuclear risk, apathy about the topic, as well as related behavioral intentions and actions. These types of relationships warrant greater scholarly attention, as improved understanding has implications for policy makers, the emergency management community, and directly for citizens.



nuclear weapons, nuclear risk, risk perception

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