What people saw overwhelmed their ability to think abstractly about probability. They saw more red on the big plate. It's one reason people obsess about things that have a small chance of hurting them but ignore real threats.
Another is the illusion of control. People who fear flying are comfortable driving because they think they're "in control." Yet driving is probably the riskiest thing most of us do. Think about it: We drive at 65 mph, a few feet from other cars -- some of which are driven by 16-year olds! And our cameras have caught people curling their eyelashes and reading while driving.
A hundred people die on the road every day. But the media are much more likely to do scare stories about plane crashes than car accidents.
So take our reporting with heavy skepticism. Ignore us when we hyperventilate about mad cow disease and the danger of asbestos hidden behind a wall.
Instead, worry about what's worth worrying about: driving, acting reckless, smoking cigarettes, drinking too much, and eating too much. "What is your blood pressure, what are you eating; are you exercising?" is what patients should think about, says internist Marc Siegel. "But obesity is boring. Heart disease is boring. So we tend to not think of the things that can really get us."
The media make it worse. Instead of educating people to real dangers, we scare them about things that hardly matter.
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