The Politics of Risk Perception

October 2008 Issue

by Diana Del Bel Belluz, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.

Have you ever assessed a risk only to have the results dismissed by a senior executive with the question “But what is the real risk? It’s frustrating to hit a total disconnect between reason and politics.In his 2008 book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear,Journalist Dan Gardnerexplores the psychology of risk perception that produces that kind of disconnect.

Gardner’s book synthesizes four decades of scientific research into how humans perceive risks, how we judge which risks to fear and which to ignore, and how we decide what to do about them. One of the key discoveries is that every human brain has two systems of thought.

  • System Two is Reason or the head. It works slowly. It examines evidence, it calculates and considers.
  • System One is Feeling or the gut. It works without our conscious awareness and is lightening fast. It is what is used in snap judgments that we experience as a hunch or an intuition or as emotions like unease, worry and fear [or conversely, enthusiasm and excitement]. It works quickly because it uses built-in rules of thumb and automatic settings.

He concludes “System One is both brilliant and flawed. It is brilliant because the simple rules of thumb System One uses allow it to assess a situation and render a judgment in an instant… But System One is also flawed because the same rules of thumb can generate irrational conclusions.”

This flaw is a good reason to cultivate a risk conscience as I advise in this month’s Feature Article on dealing with political resistance.

Gardner’s book explores three factors that influence our perceptions: the media that amplifies fear; fear marketers, i.e., individuals in organizations that profit from fear; and psychology which is the most important factor.

The book is filled with examples and stories that make it a great read and explain the science beautifully. Gardner makes a compelling case to apply what is known about how our two minds work. Critical thinking is the only way to empower us to make the most of what both our gut and our head are telling us while avoiding the traps of bias and prejudice.

To find out more:

  • Watch Dan Gardner discuss his book in a 4-minute interview on the CBS Early Showhere.
  • And listen to a 51-minute interview with Dan Gardner about his book on National Public Radio here

Follow the links to:

  • Read this month's Feature Article - Overcoming Resistance Part 3 - Breaking Through The Political Barriers
  • Download a printable version of the entire April 2011 issue of the Risk Management Made Simple Advisory.
  • View the Article Index to access back issues of the Risk Management Made Simple Advisory.

Current Special Offers for Subscribers

The code to access the following special offer has been emailed to all Risk Management Made Simple Advisory subscribers:

  • SPECIAL OFFER: $460 off the full conference fee for Risk Management Made Simple Advisory subscribers on the Resilience 2017 to be held on April 24-26, 2017 in Edmonton, AB. (Subscribers have been sent the instructions on how to access this offer).  Not yet a subscriber?  Don't miss out, click here to sign-up for your complimentary Advisory subscription.

  • SPECIAL OFFER: $150 off the full conference fee for Risk Management Made Simple Advisory subscribers on the Canadian Privacy Summit 2017 to be held on May 2-3, 2017 in Toronto, ON. (Subscribers have been sent the instructions on how to access this offer).  Not yet a subscriber?  Don't miss out, click here to sign-up for your complimentary Advisory subscription.

Not yet a subscriber, but want to access these special offers?

When you subscribe to the Advisory, we'll send you the code for all current special offers along with a link to your New Subscriber Bonus, a copy of Moving Beyond the Risk Map to Operational Vigilance.

FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF why risk management leaders subscribe, click to access the ARTICLE INDEX of all past issues of the Risk Management Made Simple Advisory.

"I save and study each issue of the Advisory. I appreciate how Diana gives very practical advice and links it to fundamental theories and best practices." 

Sherrie Hyde, Risk Manager, Lutherwood

FREE DOWNLOAD

Moving Beyond the Risk Map to Operational Vigilance

Read more about the Risk Management Made Simple Advisory.

"It is so refreshing to read a newsletter that offers real solutions for risk management challenges."
Cathy Taylor
Director, Risk
Kinross Gold Corporation

Jump Start your risk management program.

Receive personalized advice from Risk Wise

See Details

Diana's Pick

Neuroscience and the Nonprofit Manager (written by Andy  Segedin and published in the NonProfit Times) shares some of the tips on how to counteract common biases and habits that impede effective decisions.

The article is based on a workshop that Diana Del Bel Belluz of Risk Wise presented at the 2015 Risk Summit organized by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.