Why do we take risks?

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Why do we take risks?

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Alice and Finn talk about the passion some people have for danger and the unseen threats we face every day

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Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Alice Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Alice…

Finn … and I’m Finn. Hello.

Alice Hello, Finn. You’re off on holiday tomorrow, aren’t you?

Finn I am and you know, and I’m dreading it. I hate flying!

Alice Do you? I didn’t know you had a phobia - and that means a strong and unreasonable fear of something.

Finn Well, I don’t think this is a phobia because it isn’t unreasonable. Flying thousands of feet up in the sky in a tin can, you know, that’s not safe!

Alice Flying is safer than you think, Finn. It’s much riskier to drive or cycle to work. And, actually, risk taking is the subject of today’s show! Risk means the chances of something bad happening. For example, did you know that your chance of being knocked off your bicycle and killed during a one-mile journey is the same as your chances of winning the lottery?

Finn You know Alice, I didn’t know that.

Alice And this leads me on to our quiz question for today: What are the odds … what are the chances of either of these two things happening? Is it… a) 1 in 4 million? b) 1 in 14 million? Or c) 1 in 400 million?

Finn I have no idea. I’ll go with the big number: 1 in 400 million, c).

Alice OK. So we’ll find out later if you’re right or wrong later on. Now let’s listen to Andreas Wilkey, a psychologist at Clarkson University in New York, talking about why we’re bad at assessing risk.

INSERT Andreas Wilkey, Psychologist, Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York People typically fear anything which is small probability but it’s extremely catastrophic if it were to happen… Think about dying in a plane crash, think about a nuclear meltdown from the nearby power plant. Recently we have another increase in these birds’ virus outbreaks in South Korea. People read about that. And they may pay a lot of attention to that in the news but they may forget to get their flu shot.

Finn That was Andreas Wilkey from Clarkson University. And we heard that a small probability of something happening means it’s unlikely to happen. But we worry about big or catastrophic events such as catching bird flu or dying in a plane crash because we have a gut reaction to them- in other words, we react emotionally. A catastrophic event is something that causes a huge amount of damage and suffering.

Alice And it’s often because of media coverage - for example, watching the news and reading the newspapers - that it can be difficult for us to understand how likely certain things are to happen. Catastrophic events feel like very real threats, while we tend to forget about the small but chronic risks that become more likely over time.

Finn We do. Chronic means something that lasts for a long time. So for example, what if there was a cigarette that killed you as soon as you smoked it? Nobody would do that, would they?

Alice No, they wouldn’t.

Finn But plenty of people are happy to smoke for years, and put off worrying about the health risks for the future.

Alice Yes, that’s a good point, Finn! People feel they are in control of risks that stretch over time. You know, they think, ‘I could stop tomorrow’ or ‘I could smoke less’. But what about people who enjoy taking big risks - those thrill seekers out there?

Finn People who enjoy extreme sports actually seek out danger - it gives them extreme pleasure! So let’s listen to Karina Hollekim from Norway. She’s a base jumper - that’s a person with a parachute who leaps from tall buildings or cliffs - and she’s talking about what she feels about risk.

INSERT Karina Hollekim, base jumper You need to measure the pleasure. Is it going to be worth it for you? So if the risk is really high, it means that the pleasure needs to be equally high. Or hopefully even higher… You can’t measure it on a scale or anything. For me, it’s a stomach feeling. It’s the value within me, and I’m the only one who can tell what value it has to me.

Alice Yes. It must be a magical feeling to step off a cliff, mustn’t it, Finn?

Finn ‘It’s a stomach feeling’, you know - my stomach would definitely be saying, ‘oh no, no, no!’ So why not change the subject and give me the answer to today’s quiz question?

Alice I asked: What are your chances of being knocked off your bicycle and killed during a one-mile journey and this is the same as your chances of winning the national lottery? So is it… a) 1 in 4 million? b) 1 in 14 million? Or c) 1 in 400 million?

Finn I said c) 1 in 400 million.

Alice Yes. And you were wrong, Finn.

Finn Alright. Really? OK.

Alice Yes. The odds are actually 1 in 14 million. You are as likely to win the national lottery from a single ticket as you are to be knocked off your bicycle and killed during a one-mile journey. This statistic comes from the Professor David Spiegelhalter, who is Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in the UK. So I think he really knows his stuff.

Finn That’s a very long title, yes, I’m sure he does.

Alice Yeah.

Finn So let’s hear today’s words again, Alice?

Alice Here they are: phobia risk probability gut reaction catastrophic media coverage chronic thrill seekers base jumper And that brings us to the end of today’s 6 Minute English. We hope you were thrilled by today’s programme. Please join us again soon.

Both Bye.

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