If there is one thing that people are notoriously bad at, it is estimating risk. There is nothing new about this. People are more afraid of being killed in a terrorist attack than in a traffic accident, despite the odds being significantly higher for the latter. One of the many reasons for this is the fact that news coverage impacts the perceived risk – and there can be little doubt that, due to the massive news coverage given to terrorism, the perceived risk of dying in a terrorist attack is higher than that of dying in a traffic accident.
Worldwide, there were 32’727 deaths due to terrorism in 2014. In the same period, there were approximately 1’240’000 deaths on the world’s roads; or just shy of 38 times as many deaths. In other words, in 2014, the risk of dying in traffic was 38 times greater than that of dying in a terrorist attack. This is a classic example of cognitive dissonance, caused by what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
If this is so common, and presumably a fairly well-known fact of life as a human being, why am I pointing it out? Simply because it needs to be pointed out. By knowing a concept, by internalising it, and by understanding it, we can challenge that concept, and realign how we think – using System 2 thinking.