Why we are 'risk-stupid,' even when our lives depend on it

Story highlights

  • Our emotions often play a role in our perception of risk, outweighing logic
  • The more mundane a risk is, the more likely we are to overlook its danger
  • Businesses and humanitarian responders have a framework for looking objectively at threats

(CNN)News events are a constant reminder that the world is full of risk. Jets crash or vanish into the sea. Terrorists perpetrate nearly unthinkable acts of violence on civilians. Nature sends us tornadoes, floods, sharks, snakes, bacteria, viruses and countless other deadly threats. Certain foods lead to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Others are contaminated, recalled from shelves.

Most of us are aware of these and other risks in our lives. Yet we are terrible at estimating how likely we are to be affected by them.
    In a common example, many people get nervous flying in commercial jets, but when was the last time you buckled your seat belt in the back seat of a taxi? The latter, of course, is much riskier than flying, but we generally don't perceive it that way.
      We fear a lot of things in nature -- those sharks, snakes and viruses -- but find it hard to adjust to a healthier diet despite the fact that heart disease has been the leading killer of Americans for decades and is largely preventable.

      Why you get risk wrong