Risk Communication

Bruno Takahashi, Michigan State University
Michigan State University


This course addresses research on the communication of health and environmental risks. We will address current thinking about the nature of risk, risk perceptions, decision-making and theoretical perspectives on risk perception and risk communication, and application of these theories to risk communication events. We will examine the literature across disciplinary lines to address how people understand and make sense of risk information communicated through mass, group, and interpersonal channels.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Small-group seminar

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an advanced graduate course. It is an elective course for students in communication, as well as other departments such as kinesiology, environmental studies, fisheries and wildlife, etc. Many students that take the class are part of the Health and Risk Communication Master's program.

Course Content:

This course covers topics in the fields of decision sciences, social psychology, communication, and other social sciences that deal with issues related to risks. This is a seminar class that is based on an analytical and critical review of scholarly and professional literature, as well as the use of case studies.

Course Goals:

  1. To understand the issues fundamental to risk communication
  2. To gain an understanding of the breadth and depth of the area of risk communication
  3. To gain experience developing risk communication interventions or risk communication plans.
  4. To read, critically evaluate, and extend the research on risk communication.

Course Features:

Each week, two people will be assigned to develop a case study that relates to the readings for class that day. This case study can be derived from a newspaper or magazine article on an issue, from some real world case (e.g., from your work experience, etc.), or some other source. For example, the two people leading the case study could ask their colleagues to read a short article on some event in which risk communication was critical and then have a discussion about the issue as it relates to our readings for that day. The case leaders are charged with integrating into the discussion the participation questions raised by other students on our course website.

Also, students are required to complete a research paper on some risk communication issue.

Course Philosophy:

This course has traditionally been taken by students in health communication. On the Spring 2013 semester, I team taught the class with a colleague, and we expanded the focus to environmental risks. The university is strongly pushing forward an environmental, as well as inter-disciplinary agenda. With this in mind, I expect to put an even stronger emphasis on environmental risks when I teach the course in Spring 2015. I also plan to put stronger emphasis on crisis communication and resilience, which are areas in which I have been conducting research.


There is one cumulative final examination in this course. The exam will likely consist of short answer and essay questions. The exam will be conducted in our classroom during the assigned final exam time. You may use a laptop to complete the exam.

Each week all students should submit one question for discussion in class. These are not questions for the professors to "answer" –these should be questions that stimulate discussion among class members.

The final project is evaluated against the four objectives described above.


Risk Communication syllabus (Microsoft Word 81kB Apr10 14)

References and Notes:

  • Lundgren, R. E., & McMakin, A. H. (2009). Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks. Piscataway, NJ. Wiley-IEEE Press.
  • National Research Council. (1989). Improving Risk Communication. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. ISBN-10: 0309086698 ISBN-13: 978-0309086691