RISK, part 11, answers and exercise 11b

  • According to Schneier, the problem is that humans base risk perception on feelings rather than reality. This worked well for people living in small family groups, in the east African highlands, in 100,000 BC. In 2010 New York, it is less successful.
  • The four specific biases he mentions are:
    1. We exaggerate spectacular and rare risks and downplay common risks.
    2. The unknown is perceived to be riskier than the familiar.
    3. Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks.
    4. People underestimate risks in situations they do control, and overestimate them in situations they don’t control.

11b. Schneier gives an example for each of these four biases. I’ve summarised these below, but in a different order. Can you match them to the correct bias?
a. Osama Bin Laden is scarier than other terrorists.
b. Once you take up skydiving or smoking you downplay the risks, whereas you overplay terrorism because you don’t feel like it’s in your control.
c. People fear kidnapping (of children) by strangers when kidnapping by relatives is much more common.
d. Flying is seen as more dangerous than driving.

Listen again and check your answers!

Answers: 1d, 2c, 3a, 4b.

  • Discuss: What other examples of these biases could you add?

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