Why We Grow Numb To Staggering Statistics — And What We Can Do About It

July 28, 2020

From NPR All Thing Considered, an interview with Prof. Elke Weber on the psychology of risk perception:

COVID-19 has now killed more than 148,000 people in the U.S. On a typical day in the past week, more than 1,000 people died.

But the deluge of grim statistics can dull our collective sense of outrage. And part of that has to do with how humans are built to perceive the world.

"With any kind of consistent danger, people get used to situations like that," says Elke Weber, a professor of psychology and of energy and the environment at Princeton University. "When you live in a war zone, after a while, everyday risk becomes just baseline. Our neurons are wired in such a way that we only respond to change. And any state that's constant basically sort of gets washed out."

She says that's what's happening now with the coronavirus pandemic.

"People have just gotten used to being in this new state of danger, adapting to it, and therefore have not taken enough precaution anymore," she says in an interview on All Things Considered.

Listen to the radio interview on NPR.