Now that another Texas healthcare worker has contracted Ebola, and was allowed to fly commercial airlines before the diagnosis was made, health officials risk losing the public’s trust. Psychologists say this is particularly dangerous since the threat of hysteria over Ebola is potentially much more threatening than the disease itself.
“‘Officials will have to be very, very careful,’ said Paul Slovic, president of Decision Research, a nonprofit that studies public health and perceptions of threat. ‘Once trust starts to erode, the next time they tell you not to worry — you worry.'”
While the flu will sometimes kill upward of 30,000 people per year in the United States, which a simple flu shot could help alleviate, media attention has already focussed a great deal on the threat of Ebola, which remains near zero for all Americans. Still, when humans assess risk, they do so by balancing rational deduction with their emotional reaction. For reasons that have to do with biological evolution, the latter often trumps the former.
When it comes to risk assessment, author Eric Schlosser explains our unique calculations with respect to nuclear weapons: