Home Peter Sandman: How Your Ability To Process Risk Can Save Your Life

Peter Sandman: How Your Ability To Process Risk Can Save Your Life

The User's Profile Adam Taggart July 7, 2020
placeholder image

How much do things around you need to change before you start changing your behavior?

Dr. Peter Sandman has made a career out of analyzing people’s “adjustment reaction” process. And it turns out, people are wired differently.

Some watch the world intently, looking for early indicators of change and reacting swiftly to them. Others prefer not to get distracted by the “small stuff” and only pay attention once change is forced on them.

Neither approach is inherently right or wrong, but the difference often sets us up for conflict and confrontation when big risks are involved. Those who argue for swift, extreme action are resisted by the side not convinced change is necessary — as the covid-19 pandemic has clearly revealed. Families have been divided and long-term friendships ended as the “Masks for everyone!” and “It’s just the flu, bro!” camps have gone to war.

Dr. Sandman is a top world expert on risk communication. In today’s podcast, he explains the fundamentals for mobilizing people when risk is involved and why the US has done such a poor job of it so far with the pandemic:

When you did your adjustment reaction show, I received a lot of emails from people saying “Thank you for explaining the adjustment reaction. Either I felt like I was being an idiot  — or my family thought so, my friends thought so, my colleagues thought so — and this helped me understand what I was doing. This was something I could show them to explain that this is reasonable.”

I think it’s important to understand that the adjustment reaction is a normal, healthy reaction even if the crisis fizzles. I mean it’s not just that you’re guessing right. If you have an adjustment reaction and you become hypervigilant and you take precautions, you’re in a better position to notice what happens. So if the crisis gets worse, you’re in a better position to notice it and you’re ready to respond. If the crisis fizzles, you’re in a better position to notice that and stand down. So it’s not only useful when you turn out right; it’s also useful when you turn out wrong.

As for the US, we’re going to get there later than a lot of other cultures because we’re as polarized as we’ve ever been and more than any country I’m aware of. That gets in the way. Our leaders and our public health officials have done a crappy job of communication. At every step they’ve done a crappy job of precaution advocacy early on. They’re dong a crappy job of crisis communication in places where things are bad. They’re doing a crappy job of outrage management when people are saying “How dare you destroy my economy?!” or “How dare you manage this pandemic so badly?!”. It’s stunning to me that the CDC has yet to apologize for having messed up testing. It’s stunning that the public health profession has yet to apologize for having messed up masks. There are three key paradigms — precaution advocacy, crisis communication, outrage management — we’re 0 for 3 in doing any of them well.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Peter Sandman (60m:53s).

YouTube video

Other Ways To Listen: iTunes | Google Play | SoundCloud | Stitcher | YouTube | Download |

Read the Full Transcript!