...then you must be a statistician.
We've blogged this topic before, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface than we like to believe whenever we make a decision. It suits us to believe that we make sensible, rational, decisions. In practice our emotions often play a big role in decision making.
An interesting New Scientist article discusses the science behind this, and the troubling impact it can have on our evaluations of, for example, the comparative risk of terrorism and road accidents.
We discuss emotions in some detail in our Customer Emotions Briefing, a half day course looking at the science and practice of dealing with emotions and their role in consumer decisions. Our conclusions? Without giving too much away, some of the headlines are:
- Emotions are crucial in decision-making
- Both conscious and unconscious processes have a role to play
- Emotions are not necessarily irrational
- Cognition is not necessarily rational!
The New Scientist article, and a blog post based on it, also comment on the importance of understanding how people make decisions when it comes to presenting information to inform those decisions. They bring in research by Gerd Gigerenzer, a leading authority in this area, and an author well worth reading.
We tend to overestimate the chances of "dread risks", such as terrorism or cancer, while underestimating the chances of suffering from other accidents or diseases. Fear, and the graphic portrayals of such events in the media, outweighs the cold statistics on causes of death.
Is overreacting to scary, but rare, risks a problem? It is if we, for example, opt for potentially dangerous and invasive investigative surgery without good reason. Gigerenzer has a superb article on statistical illiteracy when it comes to medicine at the BMJ website. It's particularly good on the problem of sensitivity/specificity we blogged last week.
More importantly, it suggests that if we want people to draw the right messages, we need to think carefully about the way statistics are presented. We have to think hard to find ways to make the numbers clear to a non-expert audience. In addition, if we want them to drive decisions, they should be graphic and memorable. VoxPops, customer comments, and even cardboard cutouts are all effective ways to bring the numbers to life.