2014 was the hottest year on record. Air pollution in Beijing is higher than any health chart calculates. The Earth is experiencing a mass extinction of species. These changes threaten our survival as a species, and - irrationally - we are the cause. Why? Because our subconscious instincts for survival are more powerful than intelligent conscious decision making.
Surveys show that most Americans may have heard about genetically modified food, but still have open minds. A recent debate about the issue encouragement that that civil arguments about the evidence can help the facts play more of a role than emotion in shaping people's perceptions about risk.
When environmental groups in Europe didn't like what the EU's chief science adviser said about the evidence regarding genetically modified food - that the scientific consensus is that there is no harm to human health - they lobbied to have the whole office of independent science adviser to the EU President scrapped. The EU has caved, and eliminated the position.
It is appealing to wish we could go back to a less spoiled past, a way to dream that the mess we've made of the natural world could somehow be undone. But it's naive, and dangerous, because it leads us to oppose modern technologies and progress that has great benefits, as well as harms.
Choosing whether to vaccinate ourselves or our kids is an emotional choice, based not just on the facts but how we feel about those facts. Those emotions are valid, even when the choice flies in the face of the evidence. Nonetheless, some choices that feel right may put us and our neighbors at risk.
More and more, societies are rejecting factual evidence that runs counter to their values. Now environmentalists in Europe, upset that the European Commission science adviser's independent review of evidence on genetically modified food found no evidence of human harm, want the EC to eliminate the office of independent science adviser altogether.
As risk issues grow more and more complex we need more and more trustworthy information to figure them out. But some scientists are not neutral. Advocates use the internet and social media to spin and distort. And the modern news media oversimplify and shorten–and leave things out–as never before.
The are dozens of smart people who offer advice on PsychologyToday.com. A recent experience teaches me, and all of us, that it's sometimes easier to offer advice, than heed it. And in some cases, failing to heed it can be really dangerous.
Two separate rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting women's ability to get insurance coverage for contraception because of their employer's religious views are based on different reasoning, and one dissenting Justice says this suggests that the public should not trust the U.S. Supreme Court!
Our passions for soccer or any sport or team come in part from the same psychological motivation as our passions over religion, or issues, or any conflict between tribes. We identify with OUR group in the name of safety and survival!
If the proposed carbon emissions reduction regulations are the best America can do, it does not signal hope that the world's biggest per capita polluter will ever get close to doing what is really needed to fight climate change
In an ingenious test of the Trolley Problem, study subjects gave different answers when the dilemma - would you kill one person so you could save five - was posed in non-native languages than when posed in the person's native tongue. Unfamiliar languages require translation, which triggers more analytical cognitive processes, which leads to more quantitative reasoning.
The positive emotions we get as we consider donating to those in need are dampened by negative feelings we get when we are made aware of those we can't help. As a result we care less, and give less. Recognizing this barrier can help us overcome it.
Passionate advocates who want to impose their values on society put us all in danger by ignoring the tradeoffs their choices often involve. This is true for genetically modified food, climate change, childhood vaccination, gun control, and many issues.
We multitask not because we have to but because we CAN, literally seduced by how the brain intrinsically operates, always looking to avoid the heavy lifting/calorically expensive work of focused purposeful thinking.
A new meta analysis of studies on the relationship between how intelligent you are and how religious you are finds that the more you are one the less you are to be the other. And it offers some intriguing explanations for why.
We care more about risks that will affect us personally. Climate change doesn't feel that way to many people, even the majority already convinced it's a real problem. This tool could start to change that.
Most days change from one to the next with no fanfare. Not so New Year's Day. Why is the celebration of this one daily shift so meaningful across cultures and history? Because it's rooted in the deep imperative we all have to survive.
We are sometimes too afraid of lesser risks, and not afraid enough of bigger ones, and getting risk wrong can be a risk all by itself. Research from several fields of science explain this apparently irrational behavior. These insights, offered here in the context of current issues which supply a constant source of real-life examples, can help us understand ourselves and our risk decision making, and that can help us make healthier choices about risks for ourselves and for society.