Cognition and beliefs can themselves influence health outcomes. Symptoms of disease and distress are common and possibly increasing. Beliefs that these symptoms are caused by the environment are also widespread, both as underlying beliefs and in response to specific environmental incidents. How people perceive environmental influences (e.g. by over- or under-emphasizing their importance) can also have major social and health impacts. By better understanding the complex interactions between the environment, health beliefs, behaviour, cognitive function and health, it should be possible to target resources in a more rational and cost-effective manner.
Identify psychological and psychobiological mechanisms of symptom formation and determine the prevalence, impact and outcomes of health beliefs concerning unexplained symptoms and environmental syndromes. Evaluate existing and identify best strategies of risk management for environmental incidents, to limit their psychosocial impact.
In talking about hypothetical risks, we get into the distinction between what people perceive as risks and what has scientifically been established as risky. For example, as a corollary to the precautionary principle, consumer activists now insist that if the public perceives something as risky, that perception should carry the day regardless whether there truly is a risk or not. In essence, these people argue that science should take a back seat to fear – whether that fear is justified or not – when it comes to setting policy.