The dangers of irrational thinking
Posted: 08 August 2006 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Just noticed this tidbit in the current issue of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.

"An additional 1,500 Americans died in highway crashes [the year after 9/11], according to an analysis of traffic data in [i:7a67b11181]Risk Analysis[/i:7a67b11181]. Many Americans concluded that flying was too risky, and thus driving increased by 3%, compared to the normal 1% annual increase. Flying on a major airline is much safer than driving. There were only 22 crash-related deaths on major U.S. commercial airlines in 2005, and 13 deaths in 2004 (not including small and/or private planes, which are not as safe)."

So nearly as many people died through irrational preference of driving in the single year after 9/11 as died in the 9/11 tragedy itself. This is very sobering news.

That said, I know that sometimes I do prefer to drive, take trains or buses rather than fly, knowing they are more dangerous, simply because the additional security procedures, long lines and sardine-like plane interiors are very troublesome and unpleasant. (Trains at any rate are pretty safe).

So it isn’t [i:7a67b11181]totally[/i:7a67b11181] clear that the Americans chose to drive because they considered flying "too risky" ... some certainly chose driving becaues flying was too unpleasant for other reasons. But I think the thrust of their conclusion is likely accurate. People [i:7a67b11181]do[/i:7a67b11181] overrate the riskiness of flying.

Food for thought!

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Posted: 08 August 2006 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The fear of flying

dougsmith,
Yes, it is irrational to fear flying. Flying is the safest way to travel.
I have a cousin who won’t fly and will not believe the statistics. Yet she has a car and drives it every day. There are people that I believe can never be convinced that flying is safe. It’s unfortunate and actually kind of sad.
Bob

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Posted: 08 August 2006 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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certainly flying is statistically safer than driving but many people seem to think that they can somewhat ‘walk away’ from a car accident (ie. collision or mechanical failure) (and have done so in some cases several times) moreso than say in an airplane collision or failure.

would it be difficult to come up with the numbers on say the number of car accidents vs. similar airplane accidents from which people ‘walked away’ without serious injury to themselves or am i subjecting my self to some sort of logical fallacy?

it wouldnt be the first time. = )

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Posted: 09 August 2006 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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[quote author=“alexdiaz”]would it be difficult to come up with the numbers on say the number of car accidents vs. similar airplane accidents from which people ‘walked away’ without serious injury to themselves or am i subjecting my self to some sort of logical fallacy?

Yes, Alex, I have actually seen such statistical data. Actually (and surprisingly!) most people involved in airplane accidents do walk away from them. This is because most accidents aren’t crashes per se, but mechanical failures, etc.

And we can all recall a few recent cases of planes over-running their landings, and in which everyone survived. (Wasn’t there one recently in Canada?) These are “crashes” that do involve the loss of the plane, but often many or most passengers survive.

That said, I don’t have this data in front of me. I’m sure it’s a Google search away.

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Posted: 14 August 2006 04:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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While you are right about the irrationality of fearing flight, Doug and Bob - we are only looking at it in the black and white, rational, statistical point of view. Granted, this view may be the best to examine such a fear, it’s usually more complicated than that when someone adopts the fear. For instance - I have a very passionate albeit quite irrational fear of spiders and another buggies with lots of legs   :oops:

Also while driving is not necessarily “natural” it seems more so than flying for most people. Being so high in the air is easier to freak out about than speeding along on ground level.

Though after 9/11 rational thinking did seem to go right out the window. *clears throat* But that’s another story rolleyes

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Posted: 14 August 2006 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Actually, I think fear of spiders and “other buggies with lots of legs,” (a fear I passionately share) is perfectly rational, and evolutionary at that!  Those who avoided playing around with the shiny snakes and the ever-appealing spideys survived a bit longer than did their bug-loving counterparts, and here we are - descendants of the scared-y-cats.

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Posted: 14 August 2006 05:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Haha! Woot HolyAvanger for making me feel less cowardly and way more smarter ...  :?  Ok, scratch that more smarter bit :wink:

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Posted: 15 August 2006 02:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Hmmm .... about bugs, there are rational and irrational fears, of course. In many cultures they eat bugs, and it is frankly irrational not to want to eat what is perfectly healthy and good for you—after all, that restricts your potential sources of sustenance. (Although I will readily admit that I have no intention of eating bugs anytime soon).

And on the other hand, there are clearly some (very few, in fact) bugs and creepy-crawly things that are dangerous, or dirty enough to actually cause problems. Presumably it’s the existence of poisonous snakes that caused a biological tendency of people to fear snakes ... which may have been an adaptive fear, but is, in fact, irrational in the many cases where one is confronted by a snake one knows is harmless.

So, pace HolyAvenger, a belief can have been adaptive in the past and yet be irrational in certain circumstances now. Indeed, many of our beliefs and propensities are like that.

But the issue with planes is that in choosing irrationally, thousands of people died in a single year ...

So what I’m saying is that there are irrational beliefs and irrational beliefs. Some irrational beliefs are relatively benign and silly. Others can actually get you killed under relatively ordinary circumstances.

... and I wouldn’t look to evolution to necessarily provide us with rational beliefs. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Posted: 15 August 2006 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Car accidents

No one has yet mentioned what I always thought was one of the biggest factors influencing people’s fears about cars and planes—the idea that we are in control of the car.  When flying in a plane, a passenger has effectively turned over all control of his life into the hands of the pilot and Fate and the mechanics smile.  In a car, a person feels that she has control, at least of her own vehicle, and can make decisions and respond to circumstances.

An aside:  When I took pilot lessons, I most feared making a bad judgment (I wasn’t very experienced) or overlooking a mechanical problem that wouldn’t come into play until I was high above the earth.  In a car, if your steering mechanism fails, you stop the car and get out.  Just try doing that in a plane with three-dimensional controls.  :wink:

Anyways, I also think that many who see themselves as “good drivers” are more uncomfortable about being in a car as a passenger.  (Many other factors come into play here, such as if one is in an unfamiliar area, or if someone’s been drinking, etc.)  Not having control, again, can cause discomfort or fear.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that it is less irrational, since one is still much likelier to get in a car accident, but feeling like one has the ability to control whether one gets in an accident makes a difference, I think.

Debbie

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Posted: 15 August 2006 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Good points, Deb.

This is one of these psychological illusions that trips us up—the illusion of control . Not to say we don’t have control over our own cars, of course, but rather that the control we do have isn’t as complete as we might hope or expect. And further that in conditions of stress or danger we over-prefer situations in which we have the appearance of control, even when the control we have is in fact entirely inadequate.

The problem is similar to the overconfidence effect , also called the Lake Wobegon effect , where every child was said to be better than average. That is, we overestimate our own abilities as drivers, etc., and hence believe that we as drivers would be much better than some unknown sod would be as our pilot.

You will see from these links that in one study done in 1981, 80% of drivers put themselves in the top 30% by ability. However this bias is quite general, and doesn’t only pertain to drivers.

Lots of interesting nascent psychological work done on these sorts of irrationalities.

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