If the flu causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, and the coronavirus has only recently emerged as a global health concern, why are we so much more afraid of the latter?
Dr. David Rock, NLI’s CEO and Co-Founder, tackled the question in the recent Forbes article, “A Bias Goes Viral.” David makes the case that our brains are highly sensitive to what is new and unknown, rather than what is known but what is less viscerally threatening. In this case, the numbers make it clear that the flu—a deadly virus that afflicts some 45 million people annually—poses a much larger threat than the coronavirus.
So, why don’t we react as strongly to the flu?
“A major reason,” David writes, “is that the brain is constantly assessing the world around us for dangers and opportunities, and when we can’t work out how bad something might be, we default to strong danger. If we miss an opportunity we might miss lunch, if we miss a danger we might be lunch. So in the absence of good information, we default to the worst-case scenario, just in case.”
At NLI, we’ve labeled this a “safety bias,” and it makes up one-fifth of the SEEDS Model® for mitigating unconscious bias. The model captures five broad categories of bias: similarity, expedience, experience, distance, and safety. While we can’t notice ourselves being biased, we can use the SEEDS Model® to develop a common language for bias, call it out in our team members, and have them call it out in us.
To read more about the effect of safety bias on our perceptions of public-health crises, check out David’s full article, “A Bias Goes Viral.”