Risk Analysis

“Chemophobia” Today: Consumers’ Knowledge and Perceptions of Chemicals

Early View

Abstract This mixed‐methods study investigated consumers’ knowledge of chemicals in terms of basic principles of toxicology and then related this knowledge, in addition to other factors, to their fear of chemical substances (i.e., chemophobia). Both qualitative interviews and a large‐scale online survey were conducted in the German‐speaking part of Switzerland. A Mokken scale was developed to measure laypeople's toxicological knowledge. The results indicate that most laypeople are unaware of the similarities between natural and synthetic chemicals in terms of certain toxicological principles. Furthermore, their associations with the term “chemical substances” and the self‐reported affect prompted by these associations are mostly negative. The results also suggest that knowledge of basic principles of toxicology, self‐reported affect evoked by the term “chemical substances,” risk‐benefit perceptions concerning synthetic chemicals, and trust in regulation processes are all negatively associated with chemophobia, while general health concerns are positively related to chemophobia. Thus, to enhance informed consumer decisionmaking, it might be necessary to tackle the stigmatization of the term “chemical substances” as well as address and clarify prevalent misconceptions.

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