A paradox of the modern era is that, even though technological progress has improved our lives, our jobs, and our health, the belief that we live in a "risk society" (to quote the title of a well-known book by Ulrich Beck) has grown considerably. In fact, technological innovation is one of the major sources of anxiety, to say nothing of "collective psychoses" that have come to light in relation to other phenomenon (Aids, mad cow disease, Sars, terrorism). Why are we so afraid of things that, statistically speaking, rarely cause accidents or victims, whereas we manage to live serenely with others that experts consider much more fraught with risk? Why does information consisting of numbers, percentages, statistics, and odds not have any impact on our groundless fears and unwarranted optimism? The authors examine dangers and risks in the fields of health, finance, technology, household chores and workplaces. By citing amusing episodes of communication failures involving entrepreneurs, politicians, and experts, the authors also explain our minds' peculiar skills of misrepresentation, the ascendancy of our experiential apparatus over cognition, the evocative power of images and words vis--vis the counterintuitive ambiguity of numbers, and the media's role.
Rino Rumiati teaches Cognitive Psychology and Psychology of Communication at the University of Padua.
Lucia Savadori is a researcher in the Faculty of Cognitive Science of the University of Trento.