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See Inside March / April 2011

Border Bias and Our Perception of Risk

Our mental maps of risk and safety rely too heavily on imaginary boundaries

Such irrational risk assessment has practical implications, the scientists note. Most obviously, disaster warnings would be much more effective if they emphasized actual distance rather than abstract political demarcations. Tornadoes and hurricanes and other perilous weather formations do not honor state lines. But in addition, citizens would be able to make better decisions about insurance coverage if they were given more meaningful information about the proximity of risk. Finally, citizen activism could be more rationally organized. Oftentimes residents will protest toxic waste dumps and other health threats only within their state borders, feeling immune to identical risks that are in neighboring states but even closer by. Understanding border bias could lead to more sensible and effective citizenship.

This article was originally published with the title "We're Only Human: Border Bias."

(Further Reading)

  • Border Bias: The Belief That State Borders Can Protect against Disasters. Arul Mishra and Himanshu Mishra in Psychological Science. Published online October 13, 2010.
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