1.1 Social science research in the risk analysis field

Social sciences are the systematic study of human behaviour and society. These sciences form a group of academic disciplines that study human aspects of the world. They use scientific methods and rigorous standards of evidence in the study of humanity, including quantitative and qualitative methods. The main social sciences are: Anthropology, Communication, Cultural Studies, Economics, Education, Geography, History, Linguistics, Law, Political Science , Psychology, Social Policy and Sociology.

As part of the social sciences, consumer research is a multi-disciplinary science area that focuses on perceptions, attitudes and behaviour of consumers. Developments arising from this kind of research may have implications for society. For example, understanding various aspects of consumer behaviour and perceptions will hopefully improve consumers’ trust in food safety.

Perceptions, attitudes and behaviour of risk and safety are key issues that need to be taken into account!

Perceptions, attitudes and behaviour of risk and safety are key issues that need to be taken into account

The discipline that deals with these questions is consumer research

Social sciences scientists conduct empirical research, or systematic observation, to support and modify theories and hypotheses about social behaviour. A theory about social relations has three features (Judd et al., 1986):

  1. Constructs, which are concepts used to explain theories. 
  2. Relations among these constructs. These relations are frequently causal, specifying which constructs have effects on which others under varying conditions. These relations are the heart of the theory.
  3. Hypothesised relations or links between the theoretical constructs and observable variables that can be used to measure the constructs.

To conduct consumer research several methodologies are used. These are explained in the next section.