David Ropeik is an expert in risk communication. Two of the most impactful aspects of his program on Thursday, July 9 included building awareness of how individuals perceive risk and the discussion around tribes and cultural cognition which have the capacity to create greater empathy and understanding for how others perceive risk.
- One of David’s points was that we often do not take steps to mitigate large, pervasive risks such as influenza by getting annual flu shots, noting that only about 40 percent of Americans get a flu shot each year.
- David defined risk as the chance of something bad happening, while noting that the concept of negative is subjective and emotional.
- He pointed out that Covid-19 scared people so much because it is a new risk and new risks are scarier because of the uncertainty that surrounds them. Uncertainty intensifies the feeling of loss of control.
He said for the most part, people are more afraid of manmade risks than risks from nature. For instance, many people are more concerned about radiation from nuclear power plants (an unlikely risk) than they are from solar radiation (a real and pervasive risk).
- Trust is a significant fear factor. When people do not trust the people who are supposed to protect them it intensifies the flight or fight response.
- Perception is strongly influenced by presentation. This is called the “framing effect.” When the news is dominated by bad news, it results in “mean world” syndrome where people think things are much worse than they really are.
Humans have evolved as communal, social animals. Being part of a tribe was more likely to keep us safe and alive. To this day we tend to form tribes around race, religion, ethnicity, political party, etc. Therefore, we tend to hold group views because that aids group cohesion.
- When asked about optimism bias David clarified that people tend to be more optimistic about distant risks rather than risks staring them in the face.