Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology


Department of Psychology


Warnings alert a person in advance of a hazard associated with a particular item or activity. Labels containing hazard statements have become the most common presentation of information regarding risks. All too often it is assumed that warnings contribute significantly to the safe and proper use of products. An important aspect of warning labels is how individuals' perception of risk and risk taking behavior are affected. This research examined the perceived risk of product warning labels in two age groups, one young and one elderly group. Common household product labels and over the counter drug labels were presented to both groups in questionnaires, and were rated in terms of familiarity, likelihood of disregarding precautions, likelihood of suffering an injury or illness resulting from a product's use, severity of a potential injury or illness, and overall perceived risk. As hypothesized, compared to younger adults, older adults reported they were more likely to take precautions, rated a potential injury or illness from using a product as more severe, and rated the overall use of products as riskier. Familiarity of products led to a counter-intuitive finding: use of less familiar products was not perceived as riskier than more familiar products' use. Contrary to the prediction, older people were less familiar with over-the counter drugs than younger people. Reported levels o f familiarity were higher for household products than for over-the-counter drugs in both age groups. Product type differences were not revealed in any o f the questions related to risk. When only household products were considered, younger people estimated the risk involved in combining the product with other household chemicals as less risky than older people, as expected. This finding creates a great challenge for all product manufacturers, especially manufacturers o f cleaning agents. If possible, a balance should be struck between minimizing the potential danger involved in a product's use and over-exaggerating hazards to the extent that consumers, particularly the elderly, become overly fearful. Contrary to the prediction, the two age groups did not differ in ratings of severity of a potential injury or illness resulting from the dangerous combination o f a household product with other chemicals. Younger and older people both seem to be unaware of the serious effects of fumes which are released when household chemicals are combined.


Age (Psychology), Warnings, Labels, Risk perception

Rights Statement

Copyright 1995, author