Psychometric properties of an instrument designed to assess long-term risk perceptions about the Chernobyl disaster among Belarusians
Beehler, Gregory Paul
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The 1986 nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine remains one of the largest and most notable human-made environmental disasters. Radiation contamination from the disaster was widespread, with the greatest concentrations in Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and Belarus. Given the resulting impact of the disaster on mental and physical health outcomes, the goal of the proposed study was to develop and evaluate an instrument designed to assess long-term risk perceptions about the Chernobyl disaster. The Chernobyl Attitudes, Concerns, and Behaviors (CACB) questionnaire and the Perceived Risk (PR) questionnaire were created to assess several risk perception domains, including the impact of the accident on one's self and future generation, concern about health consequences, and health behaviors related to exposure to radiation. In 2002, the CACB and PR were administered to 403 Belarusian men and women (age 16 to 64 years) as part of a psychosocial assessment battery. Following methods of classical test theory, questionnaire responses were first subjected to exploratory factor analyses, including models stratified by gender, age at time of the disaster, and geographic region. Internal consistency and test-retest reliability were computed for each subscale. Analysis of variance compared subscale scores across theoretically important demographic variables. Using multiple regression, subscales were used as predictors of post-traumatic stress symptoms as a final assessment of validity. Results revealed 13 factors that were stable across demographic subgroups. Following item analysis procedures, 9 subscales were retained for further validation because they produced acceptable internal consistency estimates. As hypothesized a priori, older age, being a woman, residing in the Gomel region, being an adult at the time of the disaster, and having a family history of leukemia were related to higher risk perception subscale scores. Subscales accounted for 30% to 41% more variance in post-traumatic stress symptoms compared to demographic predictors alone. Taken together, the most reliable and valid subscales focused on the impact of Chernobyl on one's current life, personal health, and the health of children. The newly developed risk perception subscales are discussed in terms of their psychometric properties and in relation to the larger impact of the Chernobyl disaster on Belarusian culture.