According to Daniel Gilbert, famous social psychologist from Harvard University, you and me do very bad when estimating odds for our own benefit, meaning that our expectations are based in either false or wrong ideas.
Today, I am presenting this scientist’s data because I find them giving a different (improved) approach to what I posted before, here in Frugal Science, in my article: Do you know what is real?
As part of a TED.com presentation, Gilbert showed interesting data reinforcing his arguments. One of them performed as follows:
Americans were asked to estimate the odds of dying in different ways (how many cases per year, per 200 million US citizens). Te first column shows what they estimated and the second column shows the real date. These were the results:
Cause Estimation Reality
Tornado 564 90
Fireworks 160 6
Asthma 506 1886
Drowning 1684 7380
Looking at the data is easy to note that two activities were vastly overestimated (Tornado and Fireworks) and two were highly underestimated (Asthma and Drowning). Why? Asks Gilbert.
When was the last time you picked up the newspaper and the headline said “boy dies of asthma”? Who cares about a fact like that? Would argue the newspaper’s head editor. It’s not interesting because it’s too common. If he would have blown his little head with a firework during the fourth of July would have being different, but…
Some cases look more common to us because we are used to watch them at prime time. The news provide the real facts to their public, of course, but only if it sells, altering this way our perception of reality in not a meaningless way.
And that’s something we should be aware of.