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The Risks We Dread: A Social Circle Account « Full Text Reports…

The Risks We Dread: A Social Circle Account 

From the summary at Full Text Reports

What makes some risks dreadful? We propose that people are particularly sensitive to threats that could kill the number of people that is similar to the size of a typical human social circle. Although there is some variability in reported sizes of social circles, active contact rarely seems to be maintained with more than about 100 people. The loss of this immediate social group may have had survival consequences in the past and still causes great distress to people today. Therefore we hypothesize that risks that threaten a much larger number of people (e.g., 1000) will not be dreaded more than those that threaten to kill “only” the number of people typical for social circles. We found support for this hypothesis in 9 experiments using different risk scenarios, measurements of fear, and samples from different countries. Fear of risks killing 100 people was higher than fear of risks killing 10 people, but there was no difference in fear of risks killing 100 or 1000 people (Experiments 1–4, 7–9). Also in support of the hypothesis, the median number of deaths that would cause maximum level of fear was 100 (Experiments 5 and 6). These results are not a consequence of lack of differentiation between the numbers 100 and 1000 (Experiments 7 and 8), and are different from the phenomenon of “psychophysical numbing” that occurs in the context of altruistic behavior towards members of other communities rather than in the context of threat to one’s own community (Experiment 9). We discuss several possible explanations of these findings. Our results stress the importance of considering social environments when studying people’s understanding of and reactions to risks.

 

April 24, 2012 - Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , ,

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