Your fear mongering does not scare me, but your lack of understanding statistics (and your amygdala) does.
(This represents the Monty Hall Problem, if you are curious about how confusing Statistics are, watch this video )
Let me start by stating I’ve been in martial arts for 20+ years. A long time by some standard and short by others. I also have a master’s degree in psychology and have taken many classes on research methods and critical evaluation of research and publications. What this amounts to, at least in these paragraphs, is that I have been to a lot of self defense seminars and can professionally say, I’ve heard a lot of crap. Utter, fear based, factless crap.
Daniel Gardner’s book, The Science of Fear, will be aiding me in my attempt to help you rationalize your fear and be less manipulated by skewed and worthless statistics.
First we are going to start off by talking about your brain. Because without that, you will keep making the same thinking errors. If you don’t think you make these error, count that thought as your first error. We all do.
Your amygdala is an old part of your brain. We referred her her, Amy in a previous article on Mental Loops. When people refer to their “gut” it’s really their amygdala they are talking about. “Amy,” is a little reactive. She doesn’t think as much as she reacts. She keeps you out of danger when a Lion appears on the horizon. She tells you to “hit it with a club or run.” She doesn’t get caught up in the details. When we simply survived on the plains by eating, or not getting eaten, details weren’t as important.
In today’s society, details matter. Little details, like was that murder I just saw; a movie or did it really happen? Is this image really happening in front of me or is it a photograph. Amy doesn’t know the difference. Amy just feels. She feels angry, or scared, or mad. But she doesn’t think.
What does “Amy” feel about this picture?
I asked how you felt. Because I assure you, you probably weren’t thinking. If you were thinking, you would see how strange this is. You would think that it didn’t make sense. You would think that maybe the bottom of the sign looks different than the top. The spacing seems strange. But you don’t notice that. You were already feeling. Feeling how stupid this person must be, feeling how ignorant this statement is. Amy has over shadowed your “head.” She saw a lion on the horizon and reacted. Except, it wasn’t a lion. It's photo shopped. Your “head” had all the information needed to make a rational discovery of this evidence, but Amy got all loud and indignant and you couldn’t even hear your head trying to speak up.
Below is the unphotoshopped picture. I am not making any statements on Ferguson here today. Get the bricks out of your hand.
That is most definitely NOT the point here. The point is, our “gut” reaction isn’t always educated, tactful, intelligent, or correct.
This is the same manipulation folks use when terrifying you into paying $999 for a self defense seminar and telling you, everyone is going to rape you by Sunday if you don’t attend. These folks may be just as caught up in false thinking as you. Maybe they really think this is true. Maybe they really think they are saving you from rape/murder/kidnapping. The really bad people know better and intentional exploit your fears. Either way, they are selling you expensive, charlatan shit.
Take for instance this lovely statistic. We can even, for the sake of argument say it’s 100% true.
Terrifying right? Your child may fall into one of these age brackets, right? Oh my God. Could you imagine? You should never let them out of your sight. Any good parent would say so. And if you don’t, you aren’t parenting right. Better safe than sorry. You will regret it if you don’t. You wouldn’t want it to happen to you. I’m going to say no, maybe piss you off. But at least, I ask you to do your research.
Any good researcher should see the flaw here though. Now, I’m not saying you are bad at math. What I am saying, is that humans don’t inherently “get” or “feel” statistics. 1/8 of the surrounding tribes eat 45% of the indigenous greens wasn’t something we needed to ponder. Our brain doesn’t readily “get” what this mean. So instead, we just feel. 35% of kidnapped kids are 6 to 11?!?! My little Suzie is 6. She is going to get kidnapped!! This entire pie chart is crap. Its fear pie, and it tastes like shit. 35% of what? If I told you that you won 35% of $100,000,000. Your life would change!! The trips, the house, the boat, the college funds! But if I told you that you won 35% of $1, you might need to hold off on the down payment. 35 cents ain’t too much. This is the same principal this FEAR PIE plays off of. It doesn’t tell how how much 35% ACTUALLY is. Word wise, this is “relative risk” vs. “absolute risk” if you’d like to follow up on this topic.
The Science of Fear talks in the “crime and perception” chapter about ethically stated statistics regarding kidnapping. Quickly, to make my point but not read the whole chapter, we will talk about “stereotypical kidnappings.” These are the really scary ones. These are not a parent who kept kids longer than custody, kids who run to their boyfriend’s house, or those whose family friend takes them because they are worried about abusive parenting. No, these are the ones movies are based off of. These are what terrifies you. THESE ARE ONES THAT STATISTICALLY EQUATE TO ZERO CHANCE OF HAPPENING.
This boils down to approximately 50 children per year in the United States. There are 70,000,000 children in the United States. 40% of these children are returned alive within 24 hours. So the actual information regarding the worse case scenario (your nightmares), when the child is abducted and is killed or not returned, is not actually something that is really ever going to happen. Their chance is 0.00007% of being kidnapped and killed. 1 chance in 1.4 million. Your child’s chance of drowning, 1 in 245,614. But you let them swim. 1 in 29,070 children die in car crashes but you drove them to school today.
What I want you to see is that your fear is not often based in reality. Its based in emotion and reactivity. This doesn’t make you smarter, it doesn’t make you safer. If makes you more anxious and stressed. It makes you take your kid’s childhood away. It makes you neurotic. You don’t need to be.
What you need to do is be intelligent. You need to use your head. Amy isn’t the only one to make a decision. The head monitors Amy’s reactions. The head can overrule Amy’s sometimes irrational screeching. Amy feels, head reviews.
There are scary things out there. But we are blessed to live in a country where that doesn’t happen very often. Remember, your eyes see everything and takes everything in. It doesn’t know what a TV is. It just sees murder. When the 24 hour news outlet relay violence over and over again, your brain perceives that as happening over and over again. Children got PTSD symptoms from the media coverage of 9/11. They “felt” it happened hundreds of times, over and over again. Their brains didn’t know to correct Amy. They thought planes crashed into buildings all over the country. And for all they knew, all over their town. Adults’ brains work the same way. We don’t always have our “head” vigilantly monitoring Amy’s reactions to news stories. We become very emotional and engage the head very little. Once more, you are not stupid for this. Our brains just haven’t caught up to technology yet and can get duped. We have to work hard to think hard.
So next time you feel an IMMEDIATE emotional reaction, remember Amy. Remember your thoughts aren’t always as evidence based as you may want to think. Your fear though, may also not be real as you think. And perhaps, if we use the head a little more, we don’t have to be so afraid.
On the last note, here is the one tip for self defense I will share today. Be educated, but not by fear. There are a million ways to teach safety. There are a million ways to feel more secure. But fear should not be the educator. Amy makes for a lousy teacher. So who ever you are getting your information from, if they are trying to scare the shit out of you, they may also be trying to scare the money out of you too…
Click here to buy tickets to my self defense seminar only $999. Remember, you don’t want to get raped this weekend.