The Cost of Irrational Fears

Imagine the typical emotional reaction to seeing a spider: fear, ranging from minor trepidation to terror. But what is the likelihood of dying from a spider bite? Fewer than four people a year (on average) die from spider bites, establishing the expected risk of death by spider at lower than 1 in 100 million. This risk is so minuscule that it is actually counterproductive to worry about it: Millions of people die each year from stress-related illnesses. The startling implication is that the risk of being bitten and killed by a spider is less than the risk that being afraid of spiders will kill you because of the increased stress.

Our irrational fears and inclinations are costly. The typical reaction to seeing a sugary doughnut is the desire to consume it. But given the potential negative impact of that doughnut, including the increased risk of heart disease and reduction in overall health, our reaction should rationally be one of fear and revulsion. It may seem absurd to fear a doughnut—or, even more dangerous, a cigarette—but this reaction rationally reflects the potential negative effect on our lives.


Garrett Lisi explains how the stress caused by many of our fears of statistically-unlikely events is more likely to kill us.

Folksonomies: statistics fear perspective

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/health and fitness/disease (0.354831)
/food and drink (0.306846)

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Garrett Lisi:Person (0.850132 (negative:-0.884590))

Spider bite (0.974611): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Tarantula (0.572234): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Anxiety (0.558033): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Wolf spider (0.522783): dbpedia | freebase
Spiders (0.498748): dbpedia
Bite (0.495771): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Chelicerae (0.491960): dbpedia | freebase
KILL (0.487600): dbpedia | freebase

 This Will Make You Smarter
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Brockman , John (2012-02-14), This Will Make You Smarter, HarperCollins, Retrieved on 2013-12-19
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: science


    19 DEC 2013

     The Cognitive Toolbox

    Memes that would make good index cards for a box of important cognitive ideas.