The Role of Information in Behavioral and Environmental Health Economics
The increased use of information disclosure in environmental policy raises questions of whether and how provision of information motivates changes in behavior. Accurate assessment of the value of information provision in reducing environmental risks requires understanding how actors respond to risk information. Chapter two examines the effects of disclosure of information on risk perception, knowledge about risks, and actions to mitigate risk from arsenic in private drinking well water. We conduct an experiment where we manipulate how information about the health risks posed by arsenic in drinking water is presented to users of private wells. This is one of the first field experiments to look at framing effects for long-term, latent environmental health risks. In contrast to much of the existing literature, we find that information frame does not affect risk perception or actions taken to address risk for low level of risk.
Chapter three examines how risk perceptions are affected by variations in risk communication, specifically addressing questions raised in the field experiment. We conduct an experiment about the health risks posed by arsenic in drinking water and introduce four manipulations in communication with experimental subjects: arsenic level, information framing, bright lines and relative risk. Chapter three suggests careful consideration must be taken in designing the disclosure of moderate levels of risk to ensure that information disclosure programs effectively convey health-based recommendations. Without these considerations, information disclosure programs may unwittingly and unnecessarily heightening concern among people facing moderate levels of risk. We consider this finding especially important because a broad number of environmental and environmental health risks that are currently unregulated pose moderate levels of risk.
The final chapter asks if the act of disclosing information changes the behavior of those who provide the information. Chapter four seeks to determine the degree to which information disclosure, in the form of TRI, results in improvements in environmental performance. Our work isolates the effect of information disclosure by using changes in the TRI reporting requirements to help identify the causal effect of disclosure from other potential explanations of changes in environmental performance. We find limited evidence that facilities newly reporting for a chemical have greater proportional decreases in total releases. The policy implications of Chapter 4 suggest that information disclosure should not be considered a substitute for regulation of toxic chemicals.
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