Rare disaster information can increase risk taking

Ben R. Newell, Tim Rakow, Eldad Yechiam, Michael Sambur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The recent increase in the frequency and impact of natural disasters highlights the need to provide the public with accurate information concerning disaster prevalence. Most approaches to this problem assume that providing summaries of the nature and scale of disasters will lead people to reduce their exposure to risk. Here we present experimental evidence that such ex post ‘news reports’ of disaster occurrences can increase the tolerance for risk-taking (which implies that rare events are underweighted). This result is robust across several hundred rounds of choices in a simulated microworld, persists even when the long-run expected value of risky choices is substantially lower than safe choices, and is contingent on providing risk information about disasters that have been (personally) experienced and those that have been avoided (‘forgone’ outcomes). The results suggest that augmenting personal experience with information summaries of the number of adverse events (for example, storms, floods) in different regions may, paradoxically, increase the appeal of a disaster-prone region. This finding implies a need to communicate long-term trends in severe climatic events, thereby reinforcing the accumulation of events, and the increase in their associated risks, across time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-161
JournalNature Climate Change
Early online date5 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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