BC Injury Prevention Conference: puzzles and answers

Last week, at the at the BC Injury Prevention Conference 2010, some presenters and attendants put forward interesting questions that manifest inconsistencies in people’s behaviour and perception of risk:

  • Why parents have their children wear bicycle helmets, but still refuse to use them?
  • Why more than 70% of Canadians think they drive better than others? Does this indicate that education campaigns have failed?1
  • Why gang related crime gets more police and media attention than road crashes, when the latter produces way more fatalities than the former?1

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Risk taking is a matter of format

Risk-taking is often associated with the character of a person: some individuals are considered risk-takers and are said to lead risk-taking lives1. However, researchers have demonstrated that this behaviour greatly depends on the way people are presented a decision problem2, 3, 4. Indeed, most people decide to take risks when they face choices with negative outcomes3, 4 such as diseases or injuries. Conversely, most individuals choose safer options when they face positive consequences3, 4 like “dancing in the prom” or “playing with my children”.

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Impaired driving: Media is helping!

Last week, I was glad to see that an impaired driving conviction was generously covered by the media and even made the front page of local newspapers1. In particular, Matt Kieltyka’s piece exhibited traits of what experts consider good road accident journalism: it contained a detailed description of the event, including its human context, antecedents, the aftermath, and it explained how drinking and driving led to the death of a little girl1.

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Playboy model is defeating scientists in PR battle over vaccines

Although the scientific paper that spawned fear of vaccines was officially retracted in February 20101, many parents are still reluctant to immunize their children. Yes, the anti-vaccination movement is still alive and kicking 2, and the paper is far from being retracted in the arena of public opinion 3. Why is this happening?

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The psychology of the anti-vaccination movement

In the last decade, parents in the whole world have come to believe that the risks associated to the use of vaccines are greater than the dangers of the diseases themselves. In the first minute of this clip, Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick explain why many parents were so easily dissuaded from vaccinating their kids. Their account is consistent with psychological research on decision making:

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Ideas on risk communication

A review of the literature on road safety, injury prevention and medical decision-making provides two important ideas for risk communication: (1) fear is counterproductive, and (2) format and graphic design affect people’s choices.

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