Unpacking perceived control in risk perception: The mediating role of anticipated regret

Loran F. Nordgren*, Joop Van Der Pligt, Frenk Van Harreveld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Perception of control has been a fundamental construct in research on risk-taking behavior. It has been shown, for example, that people tend to underestimate risks that are under their control. Despite its importance, surprisingly, little attention has been paid to what is actually meant by control. In three studies, we argue that the common conceptualization of perceived control is too broad as it fails to distinguish between two distinct aspects of control 'command over exposure to the risk itself (volition)' and 'command over the outcome (control)'. Thus, whether the risk is imposed or freely chosen likely differs from, and has different consequences for, the ability to exert influence over a risky behavior, once it has been initiated. Using a wide variety of risk behaviors (e.g., ecstasy use, unsafe sex), we demonstrate that volition and control exert opposing influence on risk perception: control decreases perceived risk while volition increases perceived risk. This latter prediction is counterintuitive and is explained in terms of the mediating role of anticipated regret: voluntary appraisals elicit anticipated regret, which, in turn, increases perceived risk. This work highlights the dynamic relationship between risk characteristics and anticipated emotion in guiding the perception of risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-544
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007


  • Anticipated regret
  • Perceived control
  • Risk perception
  • Voluntary risk-taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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