Risk / Availability Bias

From the article AVAILABILITY BIAS: The psychology of why 94 deaths from terrorism are scarier than 301,797 deaths from guns (2017-Jan-31) [Quartz];

Risk perception [1] used to be based on an analytical equation: you multiply the probability of an event by the potential damage of its outcome. But Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, understood the powerful role of emotions [2] in decision-making and altered that equation, noting that many things affect how we perceive risk:

  • do you trust the person you are dealing with
  • control vs. lack of control (lack of control inflates risk perceptions)
  • is it catastrophic or chronic (catastrophic inflates risk perceptions)
  • does it incite dread or anger (dread inflates risk perceptions)
  • uncertainty (lack of knowledge about something inflates risk perceptions)

“Most people do not distinguish well between a one-in-a-thousand risk and a one-in-a-million risk,” said Mark Egan, an associate advisor at the Behavioral Insights Group in London.


[1] Loewenstein GF1, Weber EU, Hsee CK, Welch N. (2001) Risk as feelings Psychol Bull. 2001 Mar;127(2):267-86. [faculty.chicagobooth.edu]
[2] Paul Slovic (1987) Perception of Risk Science,
New Series, Vol. 236, No. 4799 (Apr. 17, 1987), pp. 280-285. [UniMelb:JSTOR:Restricted Access]

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