Brian Armstrong

Why You're Worse Than You Think at Estimating Risk

Estimating RiskThe latest issue of Psychology Today has an interesting article on how human beings don’t estimate risk well. Most people let fear (irrational fear, that is) run their life. And it prevents them from accomplishing great things, not the least of which is quitting your job to start your own business.

Psychology Today included this short test, which I found to be incredibly revealing. See how many you can get right. Answer are at the end, don’t peak.

  1. What’s more common in the United States, (a) suicide or (b) homicide?

  2. Whats the more frequent cause of death in the United States, (a) pool drowning or (b) falling out of bed?

  3. What are the top five causes of accidental death in America, following motor-vehicle accidents?

  4. Of the top two causes of non accidental death in America, (a) cancer and (b) heart disease, which kills more women?

  5. What are the next three causes of non accidental death in the United States?

  6. Which has killed more Americans, bird flu or mad cow disease?

  7. How many Americans die from AIDS every year, (a) 12,995 (b) 728,200, or (c) 1,299,500?

  8. How many Americans die from diabetes every year, (a) 72,820, (b) 728,200, or (c) 7,282,000?

  9. Which kills more Americans, (a) appendicitis or (b) salmonella?

  10. Which kills more Americans, (a) pregnancy and childbirth or (b) malnutrition?

ANSWERS: 1. a. 2. a. 3. (in order) drug overdose, fire, choking, falling down stairs, bicycle accidents. 4. b. 5. (in order) stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes. 6. No American has died from either one. 7. a. 8. a. 9. a. 10. b.

How did you do? Haha, number 6 was my favorite (admittedly, a trick question).

One final interesting quote from the article:

After 9/11, 1.4 million people changed their holiday travel plans to avoid flying. The vast majority chose to drive instead. But driving is far more dangerous than flying, and the decision to switch caused roughly 1,000 additional auto fatalities, according to two separate analyses comparing traffic patterns in late 2001 to those the year before. In other words, 1,000 people who chose to drive wouldn’t have died had they flown instead.

Lets be rational about our fears in 2008, and don’t be afraid to take calculated risks based on good teaching/evidence.