The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger

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Overview

From terror attacks to the war on terror, real estate bubbles to the price of oil, sexual predators to poisoned food from China, our list of fears is ever-growing. And yet, we are the safest and healthiest humans in history. Irrational fear seems to be taking over, often with tragic results. For example, in the months after 9/11, when people decided to drive instead of fly—believing they were avoiding risk—road deaths rose by more than 1,500.

In this fascinating, lucid, and ...

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The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain

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Overview

From terror attacks to the war on terror, real estate bubbles to the price of oil, sexual predators to poisoned food from China, our list of fears is ever-growing. And yet, we are the safest and healthiest humans in history. Irrational fear seems to be taking over, often with tragic results. For example, in the months after 9/11, when people decided to drive instead of fly—believing they were avoiding risk—road deaths rose by more than 1,500.

In this fascinating, lucid, and thoroughly entertaining examination of how humans process risk, journalist Dan Gardner had the exclusive cooperation of Paul Slovic, the world renowned risk-science pioneer, as he reveals how our hunter gatherer brains struggle to make sense of a world utterly unlike the one that made them. Filled with illuminating real world examples, interviews with experts, and fast-paced, lean storytelling, The Science of Fear shows why it is truer than ever that the worst thing we have to fear is fear itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Gardner, a columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, is both matter-of-fact and entertaining in this look at fear and how it shapes our lives. Although we are capable of reason, says Gardner, we often rely instead on intuitive snap judgments. We also assume instinctively, but incorrectly, that "[i]f examples of something can be recalled easily, that thing must be common." And what is more memorable than headlines and news programs blaring horrible crimes and diseases, plane crashes and terrorist attacks? In fact, such events are rare, but their media omnipresence activates a gut-level fear response that is out of proportion to the likelihood of our going through such an event. It doesn't help that scientific data and statistics are often misunderstood and misused and that our risk assessment is influenced less by the facts than by how others respond. Gardner's vivid, direct style, backed up by clear examples and solid data from science and psychology, brings a breath of fresh air and common sense to an emotional topic. (June)

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Kirkus Reviews
Entertaining, often jolting account of why trivial risks terrify us, even as we engage in wildly dangerous activities with hardly a qualm. Horrified by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many Americans stopped flying. Because of this, an additional 1,500 died in auto accidents the following year; none died in plane crashes. Most Americans know flying is safer than driving. In fact, writes Ottawa Citizen contributor Gardner in this lively account of why humans fear the wrong things, if terrorists hijacked and crashed one plane a week in the United States, flying would still be far safer. Yet in the more than six years since 9/11 our leaders and the media continue to trumpet the horrors of domestic terrorism-total American deaths it's caused since 2001: zero-while no presidential candidate would dare warn us off an activity that's killed more than 200,000 during the same time period. Using examples from everyday life and elucidating with ingenious psychological studies, the author explains why utterly irrational fears come naturally. He strips our approach to frightening events into "head" (reason) and "gut" (emotion), making it clear that gut rules and gut is immune to facts, statistics and common sense. Studies show that gut loves the illusion of control: Drivers of cars rarely feel helpless; not so airline passengers. Familiarity soothes gut. It's almost impossible to make Americans worry about mass killers like diabetes and obesity, but dramatic, extremely rare maladies like mad-cow disease, West Nile virus and Ebola and fill the media and make us nervous. Intensely patriotic, gut turns up its nose at foreign fears. Americans chuckle at the European panic over genetically engineered food,while Europeans scratch their heads at the American obsession with the dangers of nuclear power. Readers may squirm to learn the sheer silliness of so many of their fears. They will squirm again to realize that, despite this knowledge, those fears will persist.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641719578
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/17/2008
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Gardner is a columnist and senior writer for The Ottawa Citizen . He has received numerous awards for his writing, including Amnesty International's Media Award and the Michener Award.

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Table of Contents


Prologue: 1,595     1
Prehistoric Refugee     5
Of Two Minds     18
The Death of Homo economicus     32
The Emotional Brain     59
A Story About Numbers     87
The Herd Senses Danger     102
Fear Inc.     125
All the Fear That's Fit to Print     155
Crime and Perception     182
The Chemistry of Fear     218
Terrified of Terrorism     246
There's Never Been a Better Time to Be Alive     289
Notes     305
Bibliography     325
Acknowledgments     329
Index     331
About the Author     341
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Customer Reviews

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