Tornado survivors prove that we're terrible judges of risk


Chris Walters

Chris Walters

Blog author Chris Walters

Chris Walters writes for Policygenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers. He previously wrote for The Consumerist.

Published October 3, 2013 | 1 min read

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Here's more evidence that our intuitive approach to estimating risk doesn't work that well. A recent study (PDF) shows that people who have lived through tornadoes still think they're less likely than others to experience future tornadoes.

What's more, tornado disaster victims were at their most optimistic immediately after a tornado attack:

The initial optimism of the people living in communities with daily reminders of the tornado seems counterintuitive. Perhaps, however, the "gambler’s fallacy" was operating (Tversky & Kahneman, 1971, 1974) with affected residents thinking "lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place." Or these residents may have been relieved they had "dodged a bullet." Heightened defensiveness in the face of visible damage for an extended period also may have prompted evaluation of the future more positively (Rothman, Klein, & Weinstein, 1996).

That's right, I call them tornado ATTACKS. I was deathly afraid of tornadoes as a child and I still sort of assume that they're sentient. Like a sharknado minus the sharks, but retaining that keen, bear-like hunting intelligence of an airborne shark. Oh great, now I'm afraid of bearnadoes.Fortunately for me, I'm at a lower risk of being attacked by a tornado (whether of the shark, bear, or vanilla variety) than you are.["Optimism Following a Tornado Disaster" (PDF) via]