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March 25, 2008

Fear and Anger Lead to Different Perceptions About Risk

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Several of us at TWI been looking at how the interplay between thinking and feeling leads to effective (or ineffective) action.  For the most part we have looked at this anecdotally.  

Here is an interview with Harvard Kennedy School Professor, Jennifer Lerner. She is the director of the school's new Laboratory for Decision Science.  Professor Lerner studied this phenomenon in the lab, and then nationally after 9/11.

Some snippets: 

In our early laboratory studies, we found that experimentally induced fear and anger did indeed have these opposite effects on risk perception. However, this lab research was not a sufficient test of our hypothesis...

In the aftermath of September 11th, we realized that, tragically, we were presented with an opportunity to find out whether our lab research could predict how the country as a whole would react to the attacks and how U.S. citizens would perceive future risks of terrorism. We did a nationwide field experiment, the first of its kind....

The results mirrored those of our lab studies. Specifically, people who saw the anger-inducing video clip were subsequently more optimistic on a whole series of judgments about the future--their own future, the country's future, and the future of the world. In contrast, the people who saw the fear-inducing video clip were less optimistic about their own future, the country's future, and the world's future....

Again, the entire interview is HERE.


March 6, 2008

Be Afraid...Be Very, Very Afraid...


RiskCirclesSmall.gifSo, you are at the beach.  Which is more dangerous: the sand or the water? Or you have to decide which is safer for your child: riding in the school bus (without seat belts), or in the passenger seat next to you (with a seat belt and shoulder strap).

This recent article on risk assessment graphically illustrates how our emotions often cloud our reasoning when we are trying to make decisions about risk.  And what is the impact of all these disclosures about lead paint in toys, and cough medicine for children on our capacity to make effective decisions?

The author notes:
Perhaps the most insidious change is with the rare but spectacular risks. The sensational tales of brain-eaters and sand killers. Such stories have always existed, of course, but something is different now, and that's the Internet. Ubiquitous access combined with the bazaar potential publishers means the freakiest event can be shared by millions of people. Anyone can read about it, blog about it, link to it, forward it in e-mail, and post it as a Flash video, but there's no impetus for them to disclose the risk responsibly or reasonably. Their agenda may even call for them to twist the truth, make the risk seem more or less serious than it is.

Here's the paradox that rises from all of this: As an individual and consumer, I like disclosure. I want every corporate and civic entity I place trust in to be accountable. I want journalists and scientists to unearth the risks I'm not being told about. At the same time, while any one disclosure of a threat may be tolerable, or even desirable, the cumulative effect of so much disclosure is, frankly, freaking me out.

Interesting article that dovetails nicely with some of the work by Whitman grantee, Decision Education Foundation.