Worst-Case Thinking Breeds Fear and Irrationality
Here’s a crazy story from the UK. Basically, someone sees a man and a little girl leaving a shopping center. Instead of thinking “it must be a father and daughter, which happens millions of times a day and is perfectly normal,” he thinks “this is obviously a case of child abduction and I must alert the authorities immediately.” And the police, instead of thinking “why in the world would this be a kidnapping and not a normal parental activity,” thinks “oh my god, we must all panic immediately.” And they do, scrambling helicopters, searching cars leaving the shopping center, and going door-to-door looking for clues. Seven hours later, the police eventually came to realize that she was safe asleep in bed.
Lenore Skenazy writes further:
Can we agree that something is wrong when we leap to the worst possible conclusion upon seeing something that is actually nice? In an email Furedi added that now, “Some fathers told me that they think and look around before they kiss their kids in public. Society is all too ready to interpret the most innocent of gestures as a prelude to abusing a child.”
So our job is to try to push the re-set button.
If you see an adult with a child in plain daylight, it is not irresponsible to assume they are caregiver and child. Remember the stat from David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He has heard of NO CASE of a child kidnapped from its parents in public and sold into sex trafficking.
We are wired to see “Taken” when we’re actually witnessing something far less exciting called Everyday Life. Let’s tune in to reality.
This is the problem with the “see something, say something” mentality. As I wrote back in 2007:
If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.
And the police need to understand the base-rate fallacy better.