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Durham University



Dr Judith Covey

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My research is concerned with understanding how people perceive risks and value benefits in decisions which affect their health or safety. Much of the work I have been involved with in recent years has been of an applied nature and aimed particularly at examining ways of involving people in decision making. Recent projects have been focused on finding out about people's preferences for the allocation of public resources on safety expenditure. Central to this research has been the development and implementation of methods which aim to measure the values that individuals place on changes in risks to their health or quality of life.

Of particular interest are questions about why, as well as how, the values elicited from people can be affected by the particular valuation technique used. As well as causing difficulties for practitioners in eliciting coherent sets of values for policy/clinical purposes, these data are of particular interest because they challenge standard theoretical assumptions that people's preferences are stable and highly articulated. Rather they support the view that people have only very basic sets of values to draw upon and consequently construct their answers to value elicitation questions using a variety of context-specific strategies and rules-of-thumb.

Other lines of enquiry include mapping how people's perceptions of the risks of hazards (e.g., road accidents, nuclear radiation) relate to their views about regulation and priorities for risk reduction. This stems from psychological research showing that lay-people use broad definitions of 'risk' incorporating a variety of underlying characteristics of the hazards. Such characteristics include whether or not people have a choice about whether they face the risk, the extent to which the hazard's impact is immediate or delayed, or whether many or few people would typically be killed at once.

Research Interests

  • Evaluating methods for eliciting people's preferences and involving them in the decision making process
  • How people perceive risks and value benefits in decisions affecting their health or safety


Chapter in book

  • Branley, D, Covey, J & Hardey, M (2014). Online surveys: Investigating social media use and online risk. In SAGE Research Methods Cases. Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Chilton, S., Covey, J. & Hopkins, L. et al. (2004). Valuing the 'value' of life: A case of constructed preferences? In Mixing Methods in Psychology. The Integration of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Theory and Practice. Eds.Z. Todd, B. Nerlich, S. McKeown & D. Clark Psychology Press.

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