Monday, December 7, 2009

Fear and Public Perception

This 1996 interview with psychiatrist Robert DuPont was part of a Frontline program called "Nuclear Reaction."
He's talking about the role fear plays in the perception of nuclear power. It's a lot of the sorts of things I say, but particularly interesting is this bit on familiarity and how it reduces fear:
You see, we sited these plants away from metropolitan areas to "protect the public" from the dangers of nuclear power. What we did when we did that was move the plants away from the people, so they became unfamiliar. The major health effect, adverse health effect of nuclear power is not radiation. It's fear. And by siting them away from the people, we insured that that would be maximized. If we're serious about health in relationship to nuclear power, we would put them in downtown, big cities, so people would see them all the time. That is really important, in terms of reducing the fear. Familiarity is the way fear is reduced. No question. It's not done intellectually. It's not done by reading a book. It's done by being there and seeing it and talking to the people who work there.
So, among other reasons, terrorism is scary because it's so rare. When it's more common -- England during the Troubles, Israel today -- people have a more rational reaction to it.
My recent essay on fear and overreaction.

This is interesting.  It goes along with why people are more afraid of swine flu (about 3,000 US deaths) than the regular flu (about 30,000 annual US deaths).

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