Terrorism & Lotteries

. Terrorism, like suicide bombers on buses, creates an extremely vivid image of death and damage. This is reinforced by media attention and frequent conversations. It becomes highly accessible, especially if it is associated with a specific situation such as the sight of a bus. The emotional arousal is associative, automatic and uncontrollable and it produces an impulse for protective action. Even though the probability of an event is low, this does not eliminate the self-generated discomfort and a wish to avoid buses. The emotion is not only disproportionate to the probability; it is insensitive to the exact level of probability.

. The psychology of high-prized lotteries is similar to the psychology of terrorism, ie the thrilling possibility of winning the big prize is shared by the community and reinforced by conversations. Buying a ticket is immediately rewarded by pleasant fantasies, just as avoiding a bus is immediately rewarded by relief from fear.

. In both cases the actual probability is inconsequential, only the possibility matters.


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