I do seminars entitled "What are the odds? - A guide to better worrying" and this article summarizes many of the same points I came up with in my research.
IV. No Pesticide in My Backyard—Unless I Put it There
We prefer that which (we think) we can control.
If we feel we can control an outcome, or if we choose to take a risk voluntarily, it seems less dangerous, says David Ropeik, a risk consultant. "Many people report that when they move from the driver's seat to the passenger's seat, the car in front of them looks closer and their foot goes to the imaginary brake. You're likely to be less scared with the steering wheel in your hand, because you can do something about your circumstances, and that's reassuring." Could explain why your mother always criticizes your driving.
The false calm a sense of control confers, and the tendency to worry about dangers we can't control, explains why when we see other drivers talking on cell phones we get nervous but we feel perfectly fine chatting away ourselves. Similarly, because homeowners themselves benefit if they kill off bugs that are destroying their lawns, people fear insecticide less if they are using it in their own backyard than if a neighbor uses the same chemical in the same concentration, equally close to them. The benefits to us reduce the level of fear. "Equity is very important," says Slovic, and research shows that if people who bear the risk also get the benefit, they tend to be less concerned about it.
Understanding why people have irrational fears is more helpful than scorning their illogic. The same farmer who ridicules GM-phobes may jump in his truck and leave the seat belt unfastened while smoking, for example. Or scream about a wind farm or nuclear generator going in next door.
Some of the most important research being done today is how to help ancient brains cope with modern risks.
It ain't easy.
[via 3 quarks]