What You Don't Know Can Kill You
Humans have a confounding tendency to fear rare threats such as shark attacks while totally ignoring far greater risks like unsafe sex and an unhealthy diet (Daley, 2011). Read a really interesting article from Discovery Magazine titled "What You Don't Know Can Kill You". The article discusses human risk-perception and the factors that go into our risk assessment. Little nerdy maybe, but interesting for a couple of reasons.
"We like to think that humans are supremely logical, making decisions on the basis of hard data and not on whim...for a good part of the 20th century we believed this to be true. The public they believed, would make rational decisions if only it had the right pie chart or statistical table. But in the late 1960s and early 70s, that vision...a person who acts in his or her best interest when given accurate information was kneecapped by researchers investigating the emerging field of risk perception. What they found...is that humans have a hell of a time accurately gauging risk" (Daley, 2011).
So, what is this talking about? What we may have known about our ability to assess risk effectively may be formulated by emotions and society and not completely formulated by reason and logic.
News coverage of a shark attack can clear beaches all over the country, even though sharks kill a grand total of about one American annually, on average. That is less than the death count from cattle, which gore or stomp 20 Americans per year. Some examples of lifetime risk on how you will die: Shark: 1 in 3,943,110; Air accident: 1 in 7,032; Bee, hornet, or wasp: 1 in 71,623. Now for a comparison...heart disease: 1 in 6.
How often do we have a deathly fear of heart disease? Are we stricken with fear like we would be when we would think of death from a shark or from an airplane accident? Probably not, right? The article makes a great point in that a lot of us haven't seen someone die from heart disease. It's not personal, visual. We haven't seen movies about heart disease (but we have seen a lot of Jaws movies) and possibly it's not a death that seems as vicious or awful as dying from a shark attack or airplane accident.
But, it is killing 1 in 6 Americans. I've even read 1 in 4. So, pick 6 people you know, one of them is potentially going to die from heart disease. "People are likely to react with little fear to certain types of objectively dangerous risk that evolution has not prepared them for, such as guns, hamburgers, automobiles, smoking...even when they recognize the threat at a cognitive level," says Carnegie Mellon University researcher George Loewenstein.
Maybe we are not conditioned by evolution to handle and assess certain risks? Is it that we by evolution aren't prepared for the society of today? Possibly. Pretty big topic though. I think of it more in terms of how this is applicable to me. I would say that it calls for more education and reflection. Education from the standpoint of understanding what is truly a risk to your body, such as heart disease. Spend time and energy gathering statistics on that. Reflection because we should stop to think if we are accurately gauging and assessing risks as well as possibly learning to change our perception to be able to more fully focus on other risks.