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We Can't Help It - We Overreact to Recent News


"We tend to judge the probability of an event by the ease with which we can call it to mind."

-Daniel Kahneman


What do you think is more likely; getting killed by a shark or getting killed by a flying champagne cork?

Most people swear that shark attacks are far more common. After all, there are movies made about shark attacks and there's ever a shark sighting near a beach, the media swarm and and sell us the bad news. In fact, champagne corks kill far more people each year than sharks. 

That seems weird, right? Why does it make intuitive sense that sharks are very dangerous and that champagne corks aren't even worth talking about? It all comes down to how we recall information from our memories.

availability bias

Recent Events Are Easier to Remember

Things that happened recently are fresh in our minds. We know they happened because, well, they just happened. Things that happened in the distant past are far more difficult to remember. 

Moorhead, Minnesota (right next to Fargo, North Dakota) where I'm from occasionally suffers from severe floods. If you talk to people the year after a major flood, they tend to think that severe floods are very common and are likely to happen next year. If there hasn't been a major flood for a decade, people judge a major flood as being less likely. The closer the flood is to recent memory, the more likely we judge its likelihood. 

Similarly, after getting a speeding ticket, many people will slow down and start driving a little slower. Over time, though, as the memory of that speeding ticket becomes more and more distant, people are right back to where they started.