The emotional answers to potential hazards, which give shape and dimension to resentment, contribute to the individual perception of risk. But if emotion will help or hinder the acceptance of a risk depends on something else still. The theory of cultural cognition offers an explanation: it is the individual culture, the vision of the world of each single person that permeates of value or contempt every thing and action, from the possession of a weapon to the nuclear plants, from thermal treatment plants to the consumption of barbecued meat. The individual culture determines if a person will react calmly or with angst, fear or admiration when confronted with a thing or an action. This theory recognises that «emotions are not irrational outburst of feeling but judgments of value formed by social norms».
Cultural cognition theory deems that in risk assessment emotions and cultural affiliation act in agreement. This would explain why, in every society, policies for risk regulation generate conflicts – different cultural groups would like to defend themselves by different risks – and why the different contenders push their positions with such an intensity – on the table are deep emotions and the belonging to ones own group. Pivotal in this interpretative framework is the “cultural theory”, originally elaborated by the anthropologist Mary Douglas.
The most advanced version of the cultural theory assumes that in every collectivity several types of cultural biases coexist: visions of the world that are upstream of the daily choices that each person makes. Every cultural bias is associated to a type of an enduring social organisation, which could not continue to exist if its cultural foundation were eroded. The theory selects four groups, or forms of social organisation, defined by the variation of two variables : group and grid. In this description of a society, the important feature is not the number of the groups but the understanding that there is a competition among cultures: they compete for prestige, to keep their members, for resources.