Why dishing out the stats on risk doesn’t change our perception of terror threats

Ketan Joshi

Immigration leads to terrorism. That’s the load-bearing claim underpinning a recent trend in Australian and American political messaging. It seems like a potent line of argument – terror threats are so visceral, and there’s plenty of purchase to be found for anti-immigration sentiment in Australia.

Some of the potency of this feeling comes from the way we perceive risk. There’s a collection of recognisable factors that will skew our gut reactions away from actual, measurable risk and towards ‘perceived risk’. These psychometric factors are good predictors of how we’ll respond to a threat.

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Terror attacks are horrific and effective tools for skewing risk perception. They’re catastrophic, severe, unpredictable, fatal, immediate and random. The most recent example targeted children. In addition to the many lives extinguished by these insane acts of murder, the impacts extend well into the hearts and minds of societies.

A recent episode of the ABC’s Q&A illustrated…

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Why dishing out the stats on risk doesn’t change our perception of terror threats

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