Irrational fears may be built into our psychology

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis.

In 2011, the city leaders of Calgary, Alberta, bowed to public pressure and ended fluoridation of the local drinking water, despite clear evidence that the benefits of fluoridation vastly outweigh its risks. A recent study found that second graders in Calgary now have 3.8 more cavities, on average, than a similar group did back in 2004-05, when the water was still being treated.

A Canadian couple is mourning the death of their 19-month-old son from meningitis. They hadn’t vaccinated him, and treated him with natural remedies like horseradish root and olive leaf extract, refusing medical attention until the boy was unconscious and near death. They are facing criminal charges.

For anyone outside the emotions that produced these choices, it’s hard not to feel frustration at hearing about them. It’s hard not to call them ignorant, selfish, and irrational, or to label such behavior, as some do — often with more than a hint of derision — “science denialism.” It’s hard, but it’s necessary, because treating such decision-making as merely flawed thinking that can be rectified with cold hard reason flies in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

But some of the specific emotional factors that cause us to worry too much, or too little, seem to be built in too. Psychological research has identified a number of emotional “fear factors” that make some potential threats feel scarier than others, no matter what the evidence might say.

Read full, original post: Know This First: Risk Perception Is Always Irrational.

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