Why Emotionally Evocative Risks Scare People More: How We Can Be More Rational — Part II


If you’ve obsessed over hand sanitizer during the pandemic but continue to visit extended family members in close quarters, you’re guilty of a common problem: letting emotions dictate — and damage — personal risk assessment.

In the first portion of this two-part series, we discussed the role of ambiguity and how it damages our ability to accurately assess risk. Now, we’ll offer a few suggestions for dealing with these natural limitations:

Don’t Discount the Value of Emotion

Emotions can sometimes lead to problematic decision-making, but that doesn’t mean they should be entirely discarded. Often, feelings provide a sense of the hidden reality surrounding an issue. When ignored, they can actually prove even more damaging.

Instead of stifling emotions, acknowledge them. Determine how they might heighten your response to sensitive issues. Helpful hidden meanings may be evident beneath that first layer of emotion. When possible, integrate these strong feelings with rational decision-making strategies to provide a broader, more insightful perspective.

Dive Into the Research

If you’re like many people, you perceive the world as riskier after you’ve watched the news. Headlines tend to focus on high-drama scenarios that are rare enough that most people need not worry.

When in doubt, go straight to the source to determine which statistics are valid — and which are cherry-picked to deliver the most emotionally-evocative headlines.

If you struggle to understand the latest studies, look to trusted behavioral economists for accurate analysis. These and other data-oriented experts can help you examine several perspectives to determine where the real risks lie — and when scare tactics may make issues seem more threatening than they really are.