Direct experiences, we find, influence environmental risk beliefs more than the indirect experiences derived from outcomes to others. This disparity could have a rational basis. Or it could be based on behavioral proclivities in accord with the well-established availability heuristic or the vested-interest heuristic, which we introduce in this article. Using original data from a large, nationally representative sample, this article examines the perception of, and responses to, morbidity risks from tap water. Direct experiences have a stronger and more consistent effect on different measures of risk belief. Direct experiences also boost the precautionary response of drinking bottled water and drinking filtered water, while indirect experiences do not. These results are consistent with the hypothesized neglect of indirect experiences in other risk contexts, such as climate change.
Viscusi, W. Kip, and Richard J. Zeckhauser. "The Relative Weights of Direct and Indirect Experiences in the Formation of Environmental Risk Beliefs." Risk Analysis (September 5, 2014).