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Financial Times: Covid has shown the subjective nature of risk perception

By April 28, 2021May 9th, 2021No Comments

Despite many countries having since restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine, polling suggests it has had little impact on the way Britons perceive the risk of taking it. A YouGov/Times poll this month found 75 per cent still consider it to be “very” or “somewhat” safe — just two percentage points lower than the 77 per cent who felt this way in mid-March, before Britain advised under-30s to take an alternative vaccine. That is in stark contrast to the way the jab is now perceived in European countries.

Such a notion might be difficult to prove. But the idea that emotions play a role in the way that we evaluate risk, and that humans are not able to simply weigh up the numerical chances of various outcomes and, robot-like, arrive at a decision, is one that has been well established in recent decades.

“Social scientists are now beginning to appreciate the extent to which things like political beliefs . . . leach into people’s ostensibly objective judgments,” George Loewenstein, a behavioural economist at Carnegie Mellon University, tells me. He adds that “people are disproportionately afraid of things where they think the risk is the product of someone who has a kind of malign intent, or of some malicious force”.

Read more at The Financial Times.

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