This brilliant cartoon by Marc Roberts
got me searching for the info about people’s perceptions of risk reflecting (and defending) their underlying values. Dan Kahanat Yale is involved in research and theorising on this field, which is called cultural cognition. The wikipedia entry on cultural cognition is well worth a read. It begins thus-
The Cultural cognition of risk, sometimes called simply cultural cognition, refers to the hypothesized tendency of persons to form perceptions of risk and related facts that cohere with their self-defining values. Research examining this phenomenon draws on a variety of social science disciplines including psychology, anthropology, political science, sociology, and communications. The stated objectives of this research are both to understand how values shape political conflict over facts (like whether climate change exists, whether gun control increases crime, whether vaccination of school girls for HPV threatens their health) and to promote effective deliberative strategies for resolving such conflicts consistent with sound empirical data.