OK, here’s a test for you …
Rank the the following by the odds that somebody who is in the group or who is exposed to the risk is likely to die.
Make #1 the highest risk of dying in the next year; make #7 the lowest risk circumstance
- For women giving birth
- For anyone thirty-five to forty-four years old
- From asbestos in schools
- For anyone for any reason
- From lightning
- For police on the job
- From airplane crashes
And the answer is …
Ranked from highest to lowest risk …
- For anyone for any reason 1 in 118
- For anyone 35 to 44 years old 1 in 437
- For police on the job 1 in 4,500
- For women giving birth 1 in 9,100
- From airplane crashes 1 in 167,000
- From lightning 1 in 2 million
- From asbestos in schools 1 in 11 million
Most people tend to perceive higher than average risks for all of the “events” … and perceive stuff like airplane crashes and asbestos-related health issues to be way above average.
There’s a name for it: the “vividness effect”.
While major air crashes are rare, the are spectacular and very visual. So, networks constantly loop pictures of the crash scenes and victims … creating vivid memories for viewers.
“Information is vivid when it is acquired either traumatically or recently and thus has made a strong impression on our memory.
Information that is vivid is therefore more easily remembered than pallid, abstract information and, for that reason, has greater influence on our thinking.”
Vivid information is particularly over-weighted in perceptions … that’s called the “recency effect”.
Sources: Morgan Jones, The Thinker’s Toolkit and Robert Samuelson, “The Triumph of the Psycho-Fact,” Washington Post