From an early age, I have always wondered why people seem to be wrong about everything. As a kid growing up in the 2000’s decade, I constantly noticed that people generally did not have an accurate sense of probability, especially pertaining to fear.
Adults who were fed propaganda about terrorism have improbable fears about being the victims of terror attacks, when they are more likely to be killed by cops than terrorists.
People think it’s unlikely that a vaccine would cause injury, yet that perception is inconsistent with reality. Some used to believe cannabis was bad for you, while not recognizing how bad certain chemicals are.
In my experience, people’s perception of probability on numerous issues in life are wildly inaccurate. Due to lack of experience, determination to not learn from experience, and other sometimes artificially constructed reasons, people can’t accurately determine many things nowadays.
However, research suggests human beings naturally have a good sense of probability. According to Nature:
“People overrate the chances of dying in a plane crash and guess incorrectly at the odds that a coin toss will yield ‘heads’ after a string of several ‘tails’. Yet humans have an innate sense of chance, a study of indigenous Maya people suggests. Adults in Guatemala who have never learned a formal number system or a written language did as well as formally educated adults and children at estimating the probability of chance events1, the researchers found.
Children are born with a sense of number, and the roots of our mathematical abilities seem to exist in monkeys, chickens and even salamanders. But evidence has suggested that the ability to assess the chances of a future event is not as innate.”
To illustrate what it means to have a distorted sense of probability, this article discusses social anxiety warping people’s sense of probability when it comes to consequences of social activity. According to Psychology Today:
“Research conducted by psychologist Edna Foa, noted for her research on anxiety disorders, asked individuals with and without social anxiety about their expectations regarding various social events. She asked the subjects questions about the probability of something happening to them, such as making a social blunder. She also asked the subjects what they thought the consequences would be, should this event actually occur.
The results indicated that the socially anxious people overestimated both the probability and the severity of negative social events. They expected negative social events to be more likely to occur and the consequences of these events to be more severe. In other words, they were making negative predictions. Interestingly, these differences were found only when they were asked about social events, not other situations.”