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News of an Atrocity: The Psychology of Rare Events

Episode 7 of 8

Why do people tend to be more attuned to the dangers posed by rare events, such as acts of terrorism, than to more everyday threats such as car crashes?

The series that looks at current events through the lens of psychology. Michael Blastland explores the quirky ways in which we humans think, behave and make decisions.

In this episode - why do we tend to be more attuned to the dangers posed by rare, exceptional events, such as acts of terrorism, than we are to more everyday threats such as car crashes, which are a more immediate and real risk? Why do rare events sometimes feel more frightening?

People are continually alert to the odd - we have a better memory for things that seem different from others. We will pay more attention to strange events than equally bad normal events. So the more used we become to a 'bad thing', the less we are unsettled by it. Which might mean that the impact of terrorism is diminished the more common it becomes.

But there is something else. Strange events suggest our view of the world is wrong - that the world makes less sense than we thought, and perhaps is more malevolent or unjust. And a feeling that we can make sense of the world and our own lives within it can be important for our well-being.

Michael Blastland is joined by resident Human Zoo psychologist Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, and roving reporter Timandra Harkness.

Guests this week include the BBC's chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, Christopher Olivola from Carnie Mellon University, Jacob Feldman from Rutgers University, screenwriter Jayne Kirkham and Doctor Who scriptwriter Gareth Roberts.

Producer: Eve Streeter
A Pier Production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

28 minutes

Broadcast

  • Tue 26 Jul 2016 15:30

Podcast