Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Our Emotions Can Lead Us Astray When Assessing Risks, Says New Study

Date:
September 24, 2009
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
If you find yourself more concerned about highly publicized dangers that grab your immediate attention such as terrorist attacks, while forgetting about the more mundane threats such as global warming, you're not alone.

If you find yourself more concerned about highly publicized dangers that grab your immediate attention such as terrorist attacks, while forgetting about the more mundane threats such as global warming, you're not alone.

Related Articles


And you can't help it because it's human nature, according to a new study led by University of Colorado at Boulder psychology Professor Leaf Van Boven. That's because people tend to view their immediate emotions, such as their perceptions of threats or risks, as more intense and important than their previous emotions.

In one part of the study focusing on terrorist threats, using materials adapted from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Van Boven and his research colleagues presented two scenarios to people in a college laboratory depicting warnings about traveling abroad to two countries.

Participants were then asked to report which country seemed to have greater terrorist threats. Many of them reported that the country they last read about was more dangerous.

"What our study has shown is that when people learn about risks, even in very rapid succession where the information is presented to them in a very clear and vivid way, they still respond more strongly to what is right in front of them," Van Boven said.

With that in mind, Van Boven says one of the take-home messages from the study is that when communicating to the public, people must be mindful of how and when they publicize threats, which is a tall task in the around-the-clock news cycle of today.

"Whatever the threat of the season is can 'crowd out' concern about other threats even if those other threats are actually more dangerous," Van Boven said. "Because we are so emotionally influenced when it comes to assessing and reacting to threats, we may ignore very dangerous threats that happen not to be very emotionally arousing."

Human emotions stem from a very old system in the brain, Van Boven says. When it comes to reacting to threats, real or exaggerated, it goes against the grain of thousands of years of evolution to just turn off that emotional reaction. It's not something most people can do, he said.

"And that's a problem, because people's emotions are fundamental to their judgments and decisions in everyday life," Van Boven said. "When people are constantly being bombarded by new threats or things to be fearful of, they can forget about the genuinely big problems, like global warming, which really need to be dealt with on a large scale with public support."

In today's 24-hour society, talk radio, the Internet and extensive media coverage of the "threat of the day" only exacerbate the trait of focusing on our immediate emotions, he said.

"One of the things we know about how emotional reactions work is they are not very objective, so people can get outraged or become fearful of what might actually be a relatively minor threat," Van Boven said. "One worry is some people are aware of these kinds of effects and can use them to manipulate our actions in ways that we may prefer to avoid."

The study, which involved undergraduate students as subjects, was published in the August edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Michaela Huber, a doctoral student of psychology and neuroscience at CU-Boulder and Assistant Professor Katherine White of the University of Calgary co-authored the study.

Van Boven said the study would be of particular interest to policymakers.

"If you're interested in having an informed citizenry you tell people about all the relevant risks, but what our research shows is that is not sufficient because those things still happen in sequence and people will still respond immediately to whatever happens to be in front of them," he said. "In order to make good decisions and craft good policies we need to know how people are going to respond."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Our Emotions Can Lead Us Astray When Assessing Risks, Says New Study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923102405.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2009, September 24). Our Emotions Can Lead Us Astray When Assessing Risks, Says New Study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923102405.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Our Emotions Can Lead Us Astray When Assessing Risks, Says New Study." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090923102405.htm (accessed March 4, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

This Nasal Treatment Could Help Ease Migraine Pain

This Nasal Treatment Could Help Ease Migraine Pain

Newsy (Mar. 2, 2015) Researchers gave lidocaine to 112 patients, and about 88 percent of the subjects said they needed less migraine-relief medicine the next day. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Facebook Use Can Lead To Depression

How Facebook Use Can Lead To Depression

Newsy (Mar. 1, 2015) Margaret Duffy of the University of Missouri talks about her study on the social network and the envy and depression that Facebook use can cause. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods to Battle Stress

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

Buzz60 (Feb. 26, 2015) If you&apos;re dealing with anxiety, there are a few foods that can help. Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has the best foods to tame stress. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Newsy (Feb. 26, 2015) People who sleep more than eight hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have a stroke, according to a University of Cambridge study. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins