Nassim Nicholas Taleb article, Scaring Us Senseless reflects how humans have failed to use relevant statistics to perceive danger. Instead, people react to emotions and perceptions, which lead to immediate overreacting and later under reacting. Shock and fading memory control these reactions. He acknowledges that people cannot respond rationally to instances of terrorism.
Therefore, terrorism relies on human weaknesses in controlling perceptions about strange phenomena. First, Taleb notes that neurobiologists and behavioral scientists have observed that risk avoidance does not depend on reason, cognition, and intellect of humans. Instead, risk avoidance depends on emotional systems of humans. As a result, terrorists have exploited this human frailty.
Second, Taleb shows that emotional reactions do not account for statistics. This could be due to complexity of terrorism in a complex environment. Emotional systems serve humans in simple environments with simple dangers. The vulnerable nature of the emotional system makes it tolerable to shallow, social, and anecdotal information rather than abstract data.
This inhibits humans’ abilities to cope with highly complex dangers that exist in the modern environment. Emotions dominate humans’ reasoning abilities.
This hinders one’s abilities to make rational decisions. For instance, people would tend to spend much on terrorism insurance than on general insurance. Taleb observes that the use of the word ‘terrorism’ evokes emotional reactions in people and creates anxieties. This may distort one’s ability to make decisions on abstract data.
Third, Taleb notes that people choose to reward behaviors and act on perceptions differently. This may depend on sensational nature of a given behavior. For instance, one may perceive and reward heroism acts of people who leap into action in unusual events, but ignore those who advocate for prevention.
According to Taleb, an act of prevention is an abstract concept while an act of heroism is in simple narratives that human can easily grasp.
Context influences how one reacts to unusual events. For instance, Taleb observes that humans’ emotional systems react to concrete and proximate events. Moreover, the reaction depends on anecdotal information that may influence how fast one reacts and forgets the risk.
Media have ethical responsibilities when reporting unusual events like terrorism. Taleb notes that media can strengthen emotional distortion. They can use images to affect the brain by magnifying images that appeal to the emotional brain. In this context, the audiovisual media should not present emotionally sensitive information to the public.
Instead, they should practice responsible reporting by reporting risks and cases of terrorism, but without facilitating the core objective of terrorism, which is to terrify people. Vivid and specific images of televisions can evoke such emotions in people and persuade the public against potential distance terrorism attacks. Hence, it is imperative for the media to understand effects of their reporting on the public emotional systems.
Specifically, the media must analyze how their products distort viewers’ mental abilities to reason. Images and strong narratives may grab one’s attention and affect functionality of the brain. Therefore, the new media have the responsibility of using their images to support abstract facts based on the statistical truth.
The article demonstrates that humans do not use statistical facts to react to dangers of terrorism. Instead, such reactions depend on emotional systems and perceptions. In addition, a given context may also influence how one reacts to danger.
In all these, the new media may use their images and narrative contexts to influence decision-making abilities of people. Hence, the media should report responsibly by using images to present statistical facts about dangers.