The most useful academic subject I ever studied was risk management. This taught me how and why people exaggerate, or underplay, the likelihood of certain things happening.
Through my MSc course, I had the honour of meeting Paul Slovic, author of an iconic 1987 paper on the perception of risk. This stated that true risks can be largely distorted in the mind by ‘dread’ and ‘knowability’.
Dread reflects the degree of personal control and possibility of death or catastrophe now or in the future. A dread risk terrifies us, so we want to see it removed, or at least reduced.
Knowability relates to a risk’s novelty, whether it is understood or can be observed and whether its effects are delayed or unknown to those exposed. Lack of knowability makes people anxious. It is unsettling.