Comparative Optimism: Relative Risk Perception and Behavioral Response to Lead Exposure

Bernabas Wolde, Pankaj Lal, Melissa Harclerode, Alessandra Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Despite their true exposure, individuals with Comparative Optimism consider themselves less prone to the adverse health effects of pollution. Since individuals’ response to a given environmental risk is affected by their appraisal of the risk, those with Comparative Optimism may be less likely to engage in prescribed behaviors or to do so at the urgency required of the given risk. Such limited or delayed response can amplify the risk instead of reducing it. Thus, there is a need to understand if Comparative Optimism applies to pollutants with irreversible adverse health effects as it would impose a higher burden. There is also a need to know which segments of the population are prone to Comparative Optimism and how it manifests in terms of activities that can enhance exposure. Doing so will allow public health professionals address gaps in risk communication and management efforts and help improve environmental health outcomes. Using survey data, we assess the presence, behavioral and socioeconomic predictors, and implications of Comparative Optimism for communicating and managing lead exposure risk in an urban setting. Our results indicate that a large share of the population has Comparative Optimism for lead exposure, despite living in a city that has a relatively higher lead poisoning burden. We also found that ethnicity, income, length of stay at residence, among others, predict Comparative Optimism, suggesting that Comparative Optimism may predict elevated blood lead level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)691-701
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2019


  • Behavioral response
  • Lead exposure
  • Outreach
  • Risk communication and management
  • Risk perception


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