A recent post by psychologist, Nate Kornell, called into question the Ebola virus and what actually led to the mass panic about the virus spreading throughout the world. Kornell blames the media and the human mind for most of the problems. He focuses his attention primarily on the availability heuristic as the major factor behind the fear and worry.
His research showed that the dangerous disease originated in West Africa, and leads to internal bleeding among other things that ultimately end in death. In September 2014, the virus surfaced in the United States for the first time. After the news spread about the first case, the talk and panic about the ebola virus spread like wildfire throughout the country. As one could expect, the media came running at the news of a rare, deadly disease entering US soil. Word of the disease in their home country caused hysteria among the American people. Article after article surfaced with the tiniest developments in the American cases, and sources providing the information even started popping up on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The media had gotten the public to believe that this scary, emergent virus was going to take over the world.
However, only 4 confirmed cases of Ebola have been found in the US. The reported cases have either been found in people just re-entering the country from places where the disease is very common, or are seen in medical providers who came in close contact with infected patients during the most severe stages of the disease. With this small of a percentage of people actually being affected by the disease, the chance of contracting it is extremely unlikely. The American people being so petrified of this disease spreading is actually a little ridiculous. It is not spreading in our nation, so what has led people to believe otherwise?
According to Kornell, the answer lies within the human brain. Ongoing news articles and reports about the virus lead to invoking a strategy called the availability heuristic. This cognitive, decision-making theory states that—the probability of an event is sometimes judged based on how easy it is to recall examples of the event. In this case, the more people see news about Ebola spreading in the US and how it is going to affect them, the more they continue to worry about becoming infected.
Personally, I was worried for a while that I would contract the virus just based on what I had heard through the news and from social media. I was constantly hearing news stories and reports about the outbreak of the virus and how it was spreading. Therefore, I assumed that the virus would eventually reach myself or someone in my family. I was scared for my life for a while because the media, along with the availability heuristic, led me to believe something that wasn’t necessarily true.
This is just like our in class example when we talked about the availability heuristic leading us to believe that more words start with the letter K, than words that have K as the third letter. This is another example of our minds, using things we see and how we organize them, to trick us into believing things that are false. In both the class example as well as the online article, the availability heuristic worked to alter our thoughts and opinions on things. In the Ebola scare, the American population was trying to decide whether the virus was a problem for them or not. Instead of people knowing the facts about the disease, all they knew was that they heard about the virus very frequently. They could quickly and easily come up with relevant examples of people being affected by the virus because it was on the news and in the media so often. The moral of this story is that the American people based their judgement primarily on availability when it came to the Ebola virus. They had no shortage of coming up with relevant examples, and the media made sure of that. References: