u Understanding Risk, School of Psychology, Cardiff University

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Current Research Projects

Realising energy storage technologies in low-carbon energy systems (RESTLESS)
(November 2016 – March 2018)

The RESTLESS project aims to understand how energy storage technologies might contribute to a transition toward a low-carbon economy.  Public engagement with energy supply and demand technologies has been identified as a critical issue for the future deployment of innovative and low-carbon energy systems, but there is a significant gap in knowledge of how different publics may respond to different infrastructural and behavioral changes likely to accompany the introduction of different energy storage options.  In order to address these questions, researchers from the Understanding Risk Group will conduct deliberative workshops at four locations around the UK, to examine how different publics interpret and respond to a wide range of options for storing energy at grid scale and ‘behind the meter’ in homes and other settings.

Perceptions of unconventional gas development in Wales, in the context of energy system change
(October 2016 – September 2019)

This project, funded jointly by Marie Curie Actions (European Commission) and the Welsh Government, is an in-depth examination of: (1) what members of the Welsh public know and feel about unconventional gas development (UGD) via hydraulic fracturing, (2) how they believe UGD would affect them if it were to occur in Wales, (3) why they perceive UGD as they do, and (4) how views about UGD are contextualised alongside perspectives on the future of energy production and consumption in Wales more broadly. 

CoastWEB – Valuing the contribution which coastal habitats make to human health and Wellbeing, with a focus on the alleviation of natural hazards
(August 2016 – July 2019)

CoastWEB aims to holistically value the contribution which coastal habitats – and in particular saltmarshes – make to human health and wellbeing, with a focus on the alleviation of coastal natural hazards and extreme events. The research is interdisciplinary in scope, including art, psychosocial narrative research, environmental economics, governance, policy, a suite of natural sciences, and non-academic stakeholders. It also covers a range of scales from local Welsh case study sites to UK national analyses.

The Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation (LC3M)
(June 2016 – May 2025)

This Leverhulme Trust Centre is investigating enhanced rock weathering as a means of exploiting natural reactions in soils to safely sequester CO2, cool the planet and mitigate ocean acidification. In Cardiff, we will be exploring societal acceptability of this technology, including the design of public engagement methods for enhanced weathering as a negative emission technology. 

FLEXIS: Social acceptability and responsible development of energy systems
(January 2016 – December 2020)

FLEXIS (Flexible Integrated Energy Systems) is a multi-partner, multi-million pound programme, which integrates social science and technical research to address issues concerning the energy system of the future. It is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and forms part of the Cardiff Energy Systems Research Institute. The social science research is conducted alongside that of technical colleagues to investigate lived experiences of changes to our energy systems and also to ensure that development proceeds on the model of ‘responsible innovation’ - that is, building responsiveness to wider societal concerns into innovation processes. We are undertaking research around demonstrator sites with the public and community groups to set up deliberative and participatory activities as well as qualitative interviews. An important aim of the social science work programme is to deliver fundamental advances in our understanding of the ways individuals, families, and communities engage with the complexities of future integrated energy system changes, and the issues, values and framings people utilise to make sense of these.

Resilience to EArthquake-induced landslide risk in CHina (REACH)
(January 2016 – January 2019)

The ability for communities to "bounce back" from major disasters is essential for poverty alleviation and economic development. Termed "disaster resilience", this process is of particular importance in China as rapid economic expansion and urbanization has increased Chinese susceptibility to a number of major disasters, including the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. Earthquake-induced landslides represent a particular challenge to resilience as increased rates of landslide hazard may persist for many decades. The research seeks to understand what controls this persistent landslide hazard and the processes that cause landslides to jeopardise recovery. To understand the recovery process and how it affects resilience, we will investigate the role of "social vulnerability" in modifying the response to earthquakes and their related hazards.

Societal preferences, cost, and trust associated with UK energy transitions
(July 2015 – April 2019)

This project is part of the core UK Energy Research Centre phase III programme; it investigates public perceptions of costs associated with energy transitions, including who the public views as responsible for these costs and why.  The research proceeds in three stages: (1) an initial survey (N=3150) that explored in-depth the ways in which the general public thinks about costs of and responsibility for energy system changes (energy transitions), and why these perceptions exist, (2) a second, follow-up survey with the same population (N=2050) that delved deeper into thoughts about the acceptability of specific costs and the effect of variations in cost on preferences for approaches to energy system change, and (3) qualitative focus groups with survey respondents that explore nuance in why certain answers emerged.

M4ShaleGas – Measuring, Monitoring, Mitigating, and Managing environmental impacts of shale gas
(June 2015 – November 2017)

This project is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme; it aims to address the specific challenge related to understanding, preventing, and mitigating the potential environmental impacts and risks of shale gas exploration and exploitation.  The M4ShaleGas project is carried out by 18 European research institutions; Cardiff University’s portion focuses on public perceptions of shale gas: synthesising extant research in this area in North America and Europe, and generating implications and recommendations for the future of shale gas and social licence for shale gas development in Europe.

European Perceptions of Climate Change (EPCC): A comparison between four European Countries
(March 2015 – June 2017)

This collaborative ESRC funded project is part of the Joint Project Initiative (JPI – Climate) and brings together research teams from Germany, France, Norway and the United Kingdom to conduct a theoretically grounded cross-national survey of public perceptions of climate change and energy preferences. The main objective of this project is to contribute towards an understanding of European perceptions of climate change by producing directly comparable survey data from four key Northern European countries under consideration of the unique socio-political profile of each country.

BRISKEE – Behavioural response to investment risks in energy efficiency
(March 2015 – September 2017)

BRISKEE is an EU Horizon 2020 project that will provide input to the design and evaluation of energy efficiency policy in the EU residential sector. BRISKEE provides empirical evidence of applied discount rates, accounting for differences across EU households, technologies and countries. It explores the impact of time discounting and risk preferences on the diffusion of energy efficient technology and energy demand in the EU residential sector until 2030, and the macro-level impacts of changes in microeconomic decision-making and policy.

Opportunities and Barriers to Achieving Transitions in UK Energy and Materials Use – The Role of Publics, Society and Decision-Makers
(January 2015 – September 2018)

This project investigates the social meanings, practices and values surrounding material efficiency and the circular economy with a view to fostering the low carbon transition. We are exploring the social and technical futures that may evolve from new resource efficient business models with both expert stakeholders and wider publics. This research involves in-depth workshops and a major national survey. The project is funded by the EPSRC as part of the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP).

CASPI – Low Carbon Lifestyles and Behavioural Spillover
(February 2014 – February 2019)

A mixed methods project examining the personal, cultural and contextual basis of pro-environmental behaviour in seven countries (UK, Brazil, Nepal, China, South Africa, Denmark, Poland). The CASPI project is particularly interested in assessing the conditions under which ‘spillover’ occurs – in other words, whether one new green behaviour (e.g., recycling) leads to take-up, or in some cases suppression, of other green behaviours (e.g., taking your own bags shopping), and if so, under what circumstances.

(2014 – 2017)

CONTAIN is an EPSRC funded project that examines the geology and geomechanics of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) sites, as well as the social understanding of CCS in the UK.

CO2 Injection and Storage: Short and long term behaviour at different spatial scales
(November 2013 – August 2017)

This project is funded by EPSRC and examines the risks associated with CO2 injection and storage, a technology that aims to reduce atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by transporting and sequestering it deep underground where it cannot contribute to climate change. Researchers from the Understanding Risk Group are leading work package four of the project. We are conducting deliberative workshops to examine how trust and values shape expert and public perceptions of the risks and benefits associated with CO2 injection and storage.

Low-carbon research and travel

A collaboration with Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research examining practical ways in which low-carbon research can be established, and arguing for a change to how we carry out research activities.

Postgraduate (PhD) student research

An investigation into the causal underpinnings of the relationship between cultural worldviews and risk perception using novel scales developed to measure cultural worldviews in the U.K.

PhD student: Joshua Lord
PhD supervisors: Professors Lorraine Whitmarsh and Wouter Poortinga

Research into the cultural cognition of risk has generated a number of important findings about the relationship between cultural worldviews and risk perceptions, as well as some of the psychological mechanisms mediating this relationship. Nevertheless, good reason exists to think that popular cultural worldview measures are less sensitive when measuring these constructs outside of the cultural context in which they were developed (i.e. the United States). Furthermore, the causal underpinnings of the relationship between worldviews and risk perceptions is not fully understood, and represents a significant gap in the literature. Hence, the first stage of my project was to develop novel measures of cultural worldviews tailored to the U.K. cultural context. The second stage was to use these measures within experimental research designs to elucidate the causal factors connecting worldviews to risk perceptions.

Public Risk Perceptions of Ocean Acidification

PhD student: Elspeth Spence
PhD supervisors: Professors Nick Pidgeon and Paul Pearson

This interdisciplinary piece of research is being conducted to establish how the emerging climate risk of ocean acidification is understood by the general public. Using a mental models approach an expert model of ocean acidification was created through semi-structured interviews and a literature review. Secondly, interviews with members of the public were carried out to establish where common beliefs and knowledge overlapped with the experts but also where they differed. Finally, a large public survey allowed me to determine how widespread these conceptualisations of ocean acidification were in the wider population. This project will contribute to the design of future risk communications around this issue as well as allowing an insight into emerging discourses on novel risks and technology.

Understanding Risk Impacts on Identity: the case of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

PhD student: Andrew Roberts
PhD supervisors: Professors Karen Henwood and Nick Pidgeon

The siting of energy infrastructure has always been a contested issue. Previously, the concerns of individuals have been dismissed as too minor in relation to the overriding issue of sustainability too warrant much credence. Yet this only seeks to aggravate affected individuals as they see decisions made that affect the places which they identify with altered without input, their lifestyles affected and their identities threatened. My study will utilise a risk lens through which to understand how risk impacts are perceived to identity in relation to renewable energy infrastructure, with the case in study being the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. This study is born out of the Energy Biographies project, as we seek to understand how our energy demand and usage will shape us, and us it.