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"Twister Fate" -- The Discovery Files

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Even in the face of a disaster, we remain optimistic about our chances of injury compared to others, according to a study by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Heavy winds) Twister fate.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Jerry Suls is a psychologist at the University of Iowa who studies social comparison. (Sound effect: tornado sound) When an F-2 tornado struck his town, he put his skills to work to investigate how peoples' optimism is affected by a disaster. He and his colleagues interviewed three groups: Students, local residents and residents in neighborhoods that suffered damage from the tornado.

They asked each participant how likely they thought they were to be injured in a twister within the next ten years--the statistical odds and they asked the likelihood they'd be injured compared to the rest of the population in the state--the comparative odds.

The team found that for the first six months after the tornado, people in the neighborhoods directly affected felt least likely to be injured in the future. Sure, (Sound effect: quick lightning bolt) lightning never strikes in the same place twice, right? And most of those surveyed in the town thought their risk was lower than the risk for other Iowans, even a year later.

Jerry Suls says most people maintain an optimistic view about their fate compared to others. Even a weather disaster seems to do little to shake that. Suls says this optimism may explain why some are so hesitant to seek shelter during natural disasters (Sound effect: storm sounds). More study is needed to see how these attitudes influence emergency preparedness.

Me? Just call me Chicken Little.

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