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Encyclopedia > Risk homeostasis

Risk homeostasis is a psychological theory developed by Gerald J.S. Wilde, a professor emeritus of psychology at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. This theory is fleshed out in Wilde's book1. Psychology is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. ... Queens University, or simply Queens, is a coeducational, nonsectarian university located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, on the edge of Lake Ontario. ... Murney Tower, Kingston The Fort Henry Guard performing an historical demonstration The Prince George Hotel. ...

The theory of risk homeostasis states that an individual has an inbuilt target level of acceptable risk which does not change. This level varies between individuals. When the level of acceptable risk in one part of the individual's life changes; there will be a corresponding rise/drop in acceptable risk elsewhere. The same, argues Wilde, is true of larger human systems (e.g. a population of drivers).

For example, in the famous Munich taxicab study, half of a fleet of cabs were equipped with antilock braking system (ABS) brakes, while the other half had older brake systems. The accident rate for both types of car (ABS and non-ABS) remained the same, because ABS-car drivers took more risks, assuming that ABS would take care of them. They raised their risk taking, assuming the ABS would then lower the real risks, leaving their "target level" of risk unchanged. The non-ABS drivers drove the same way, thinking that they had to be more careful, since ABS would not be there to help in case of a dangerous situation. Coordinates: Time zone: CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2) Administration Country: Germany State: Bavaria Administrative region: Upper Bavaria District: Urban district City subdivisions: 25 borroughs Lord Mayor: Christian Ude (SPD) Governing parties: SPD / Greens / Rosa Liste Basic Statistics Area: 310. ... An anti-lock braking system (commonly known as ABS, from the German name Antiblockiersystem given to it by its inventors at Bosch) is a system on motor vehicles which prevents the wheels from locking while braking. ...

Similarly, in the late 1970s, the government of British Columbia, a province in western Canada, undertook a massive anti-drunk-driving campaign. They succeeded in reducing the accident rate (due to drunken driving) by nearly 18% over a four-month period. However, accidents caused by other factors increased by 19% during the same time. People took fewer risks driving while intoxicated, but more doing other dangerous actions on the road. Motto: Splendor Sine Occasu (Latin: Splendour without diminishment) Official languages English de facto (none stated in law) Flower Pacific dogwood Tree Western Redcedar Bird Stellers Jay Capital Victoria Largest city Vancouver Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo Premier Gordon Campbell (BC Liberal) Parliamentary representation  - House seats  - Senate seats 36 6 Area...

Wilde cites a multitude of other studies which show the same thing. Anti-smoking campaigns do not work; neither do industrial safety campaigns of most kinds. The massive increase in car safety features has had little effect on the overall accident rate or the cost of such accidents (the death rate from traffic accidents, however, has decreased).

Wilde argues that safety campaigns tend to "move risk taking behaviour around," rather than reducing it. In order to increase safety, two things need to happen. First, people's future expectations need to be raised. Many studies have shown that those who value the future more highly have lower accident rates and less risk taking behaviour than those who discount the value of the future (an alternative explanation about why behaviours such as smoking are predominantly lower socio-economic class phenomena). Second, there needs to be direct incentives for people to behave safely. In some companies, direct payments to workers for zero accidents (and very small fines when accidents do happen) have massively lowered accident rates. The functional approach thus seems to be "much carrot, little bit of stick."

The implications of Wilde's work on areas such as health care are startling. Given baby boomers’ increasing use of health-care resources in most industrialised societies, Wilde's theory seems to suggest that health care systems should be directly financially rewarding healthy behaviour and extracting payment for unhealthy behaviour.

It should be noted, however, that Wilde's work is not widely accepted and has garnered significant criticism. [1]

See also

In ethology, risk compensation (sometimes known as risk homeostasis) is an effect whereby individual animals may tend to adjust their behaviour in response to perceived changes in risk. ...

External links

  • Target Risk - web version of the first edition of Wilde's book
  • Risk homeostasis hypothesis: a rebuttal - rebuttal of Wilde's findings citing additional academic sources.


  • 1. Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health, Gerald J.S. Wilde ISBN 0-9699124-3-9
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  Results from FactBites:
Target Risk - Chapter 4 (7373 words)
Risk homeostasis does not imply a law of "the conservation of accidents",[12] just as homeostasis of body temperature or blood pressure does not imply invariant body temperature or invariant blood pressure.
Although the theory of risk homeostasis was originally conceived in an effort to explain various features of accident statistics and other observations in the domain of transportation risk, it can readily be extended to the area of occupational safety and public health insofar as it depends on lifestyle.
From what has been said so far about risk homeostasis theory, it is clear that the human being is seen as a strategist, a planner, who attempts to optimize, not minimize, the level of risk-taking for the purpose of maximizing the benefits--economic, biological and psychological--that may be derived from life.
Risk Homeostasis (2604 words)
Wilde's theory of Risk Homeostasis constitutes a frontal attack on this premise and, accordingly, on the safety measures based on it.
Risk homeostasis [...] is the road safety equivalent to the theory of continental drift."
....Risk homeostasis theory is a pessimistic theory.....Wilde argues that ergonomic measures are useful in increasing mobility but they are not useful in saving lives......There is nothing unique about the argument that increasing the desire to be safe may be a significant safety measure.
  More results at FactBites »



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