There is a risk that climate change in Northern Europe will cause an increase of insect populations that are a nuisance to humans. Studies and media reporting indicate that many people in Sweden already today suffer from a perceived increase of mosquitoes in their communities and that demands for large-scale, publicly-funded interventions to fight these mosquitoes are on the rise. In Sweden it is extremely rare to combat insect populations solely on the basis of human nuisance, partly due to a strong national ambition to protect biodiversity. When mosquitoes in some rare cases have been combated a biological insecticide has been used. There is, however, uncertainties related to the insecticide’s long term effects on biodiversity, and these kinds of interventions are also expensive. Hence, this poses a dilemma that policy makers have to handle. Since the main reason for fighting mosquitoes in the Northern part of the world, thus far, is people’s experiences of discomfort, it is important to gain more knowledge on what this discomfort stands for in order to effectively deal with this dilemma. Qualitative studies show that even where the mosquito prevalence is very high, risk perception can vary from one person to another. Thus, as is the case concerning risk perception in general the perceived threat from mosquitoes is probably influenced by many factors in addition to the actual frequency of these insects. Quantitative studies that explore which these factors are, have, however, not yet been performed.
The aim of this study was to explore which factors are associated with risk perception concerning mosquitoes among people living in a Swedish community that recently has experienced an increase in mosquitoes. Theories and studies about place identity, social norms, worry and values and their role in influencing risk perception were used in order to identify relevant factors. A postal questionnaire was distributed to those living in the community and was answered by 317 persons (response rate 70 %). A scale containing items measuring perceived threat of the mosquitoes to oneself, other people, and the community was developed. The items fell out as a unidimensional scale in a principal component analysis and the internal consistency of the scale was good. In bivariate analyses mosquito risk perception was positively related to place identity, descriptive social norms, and self-oriented worry and negatively related to ecocentric values, while it had no significant relation to other-oriented worry. Thereafter, the relative importance of these factors in explaining risk perception was investigated in a multiple regression analysis with gender, education and age as control variables. The most important predictor was descriptive social norms, but place identity, and ecocentric values also contributed uniquely in explaining risk perception. Thus, the more people perceived others to have a high risk perception concerning mosquitoes, the stronger they identified with their community, and the less important they found ecocentric values to be, the higher risk perception they had concerning mosquitoes. These results are discussed in relation to the theory of social amplification of risks and practical implications are elaborated upon.
Place Identity, Mosquitoe Risk Perception, Ecocentric Values, Descriptive Social Norms and Biodiversity