From the creator of Video Skepdude

Buy flight insurance to keep plane from crashing?

According to this NYTimes article, we buy flight insurance because we actually at some level believe it will help keep the plane in the sky.

Last year, tens of millions of people bought life insurance for scheduled flights of airlines in the United States. Not one of those insured passengers died in a crash — and this was not just a coincidence, at least not to many of the people who bought the insurance.

No, at some level they believed that their insurance helped keep the plane aloft, according to psychologists with new experimental evidence of just how weirdly superstitious people can be.

We buy insurance not just for peace of mind or to protect ourselves financially, but because we share the ancient Greeks’ instinct for appeasing the gods.

Apparantely, this level of superstition is not limited to flight insurance only.

We may not slaughter animals anymore to ward off a plague, but we think buying health insurance will keep us from getting sick. Our brains may understand meteorology, but in our guts we still think that not carrying an umbrella will make it rain, a belief that was demonstrated in experiments by Jane Risen of the University of Chicago and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell.

The psychologists first identified this reluctance last year by reconsidering a well-known superstition about lottery tickets. Experimenters had repeatedly found that once people were given a lottery ticket, they would refuse to trade it for another ticket despite being offered a cash bonus and reassured that the other ticket was just as likely to win

Psycholoigsts try to explain such behavior using the theory of anticipated regret.Even though the people realized the odds were no different for any ticket, they anticipated feeling especially stupid if they traded away a winner, so they held on to their ticket just to avoid that regret.

It seems this is more than pure speculation. Experiments seem to confirm such behavior. I find this very interesting. It makes me stop and think about my own behavior. When I get health insurance do I have an expectation of reduced chances of illness? Not that I can remember. I do have an expectation of reduced negative consequences if I have insurance, versus not having insurance.

If I bought a lottery ticket for $1 and someone offered to trade that for another $1 ticket, I also think I would not trade. The theory of anticipated regret seems to make sense. If someone offered $1 ticket plus and additional $10, I think I would. I would take the $10 buy another 10 tickets and increase my chances of picking the winning ticket by 1,000 % (which is still nothing if you take into account the odds of actually winning the lottery). But I never thought of this before.

Bottom line, I do not buy flight insurance in the hopes of avoiding of a crash. I do not buy health insurance in the hopes of not getting ill. But I probably would not trade a lottery ticket for another equivalent lottery ticket if the additional cash was not substantial. It seems we still have traces of superstitious thinking left in us. Now is that a product of evolution or of an intelligent designer?


May 6, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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