Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why are we more afraid of Ebola than the flu?” you ask? That’s a good question. It’s timely too. (Why do they call my effeminate friend Lucky Charms when he doesn’t eat that cereal?”)
Ebola has made it to US. It’s currently camped out in New York City in the form of American Dr. Craig Spencer who caught the disease in Guinea. Apparently he hadn’t heard of our Ebola troubles in Texas so rather than have himself checked out when he returned here he took a taxi, rode the subway and went bowling among other things. (Nice. “Physician heal thyself”, indeed.)
Well, yours truly feels like the Joker in The Dark Knight (ironically enough) complete in nurse’s uniform. “The flu and malaria kill hundreds of thousands per year. But one person gets Ebola and suddenly everyone loses their minds.”
Your ranting writer is not alone—no! It turns out the folks at Southern California Public Radio also have similar feelings. They posed this question recently: “(W)hen Ebola has killed only one person in the U.S., are we ignoring other, greater threats?”
After all, according to their sources in one week (recently) over 1,000 people died from the flu. Professor of psychology and behavioral economics and author Dan Ariely recently appeared on one of their programs as part of a larger interview in which he discusses Ebola. He explained why we are more afraid of Ebola than the flu.
He said: “It’s interesting that the fear is so high. If you think about this disease it’s really quite strange because we know the people who are suffering and contracted it. Can you name someone who died of a heart attack yesterday?”
He believes there are reasons why we fear Ebola so much. “One is called the identifiable victim effect. It’s the idea that when we see one act, one instance of tragedy, our heart goes out to them and all of a sudden we know details about them, we feel their pain. It stays with our memories but also evokes our emotions in a very strong way.
“When we think of something big that happens to thousands of people it doesn’t have the same emotional impact. You’d think something that affects 1,000 people would be 1,000 times stronger but it’s actually weaker. The moment we add more people to a tragedy it actually evokes our emotion to a lower degree.”
Ariely also blames Hollywood. He stated: “Think of all the movies that have been about Ebola and diseases like this. There is a very interesting phenomenon where we remember things but we don’t remember where it came from. Movies are really amazing in creating images in our brains. These images are connected to Ebola but you don’t remember they come from a movie and not reality.”
Ariely also confirms a belief that this reporter has previously mentioned. There is the fear brought on by not being in control and by not knowing what could happen next. He stated “I think randomness is a big part of it.”
Why are we more afraid of Ebola than the flu? Now you know.
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