Analyzing the Existence and Relation of Optimistic Bias and First-Person Perception for an Impersonal Environmental Change

Rebecca M. Rogers, Cornelia Wallner, Bernhard Goodwin, Werner Heitland, Wolfgang W. Weisser, Hans-Bernd Brosius


Many changes in nature do not directly threaten humans, but do negatively influence nature itself, thereby posing an “impersonal” risk. We examine the optimistic bias (OB) for an impersonal risk, the first-person perception (FPP) of an impersonal risk, and the influence of media reporting and proximity of an impersonal risk on FPP and OB. Finally, we investigate the relationship between OB and FPP. We conducted a field experiment (N = 479) in 12 German cities where an invasive moth species had infested culturally important horse chestnut trees. We found OB for this nature change that decreased for people living in an area subject to this impersonal nature risk. After the treatments, neither the proximity of impersonal risk nor the journalistic style of media reporting had a significant effect on OB. An FPP was found that was not influenced significantly by either different journalistic styles or the proximity of impersonal risk. A nonsignificant swap-in-signs relation between OB and FPP was found depending on journalistic style.


first-person perception, optimistic bias, media effects, nature change, impersonal risk

Full Text: