Tag Archives: Detroit

Are you afraid to go to Mexico? Mental shortcuts may promote misperceptions about risk

By Kevin R. Betts

Whenever I mention growing up in Metro Detroit to people in my current city of Fargo, I find myself begrudgingly answering questions about street crime and gang violence — regional attractions and achievements, in contrast, are rarely mentioned. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising given Detroit’s current label as “America’s most dangerous city” and generally gritty reputation. But I can understand why Mexico’s tourism division speaks of fighting battles against misunderstood risks and geographical imprecision propagated by politicians and the media. Speaking to Newsweek about Mexico’s recent achievements, a Mexican official says “Everything you do is like the fourth paragraph. It should be the headline.

The generalized American fear of traveling to Mexico is not without reason. The country’s drug war alone has lasted four and a half years and left 35,000 dead. Yet, politicians and the media speak of this violence as if it were the only story to be told about the country. In reality, risks faced by Americans in Mexico are quite low. Newsweek’s Bryan Curtis crunches the numbers: “…if you look at the number of Americans killed in Mexico since the drug war began in 2006, and then isolate the number of innocents “caught in the crossfire,” it amounts to only 10 or 20 killings per year….This is in a country with hundreds of thousands of American expats and more than 17 million American tourists.” David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute, confirms: “It would be naïve to say there is zero risk…But it would be alarmist to say the risk is much higher than ‘very low.’

So why do so many Americans fear crossing their southern border? It probably has a lot to do with the way in which we process information about unknowns. The availability heuristic, for example, is a rule of thumb we use to predict the likelihood of events based on the ease with which examples can be brought to mind. When we think of Mexico, we may visualize beheadings, kidnappings, and mass graves — images that have been provided for us by politicians and the media in recent years. Just as our attention is drawn toward these acts of violence, our attention is drawn away from Mexico’s natural beauty, delicious food, and friendly people. Another rule of thumb known as the representativeness heuristic contributes to this misperception by leading us to judge the probability of one event by finding a comparable event and assuming the probabilities will be similar. So when we hear about violence in Ciudad Juárez, we wrongly assume that violence is commonplace in places like Acapulco as well. Or more precisely, when we hear about violence in Ciudad Juárez, we wrongly assume that all parts of the city are equally dangerous.

Residents of Detroit understand that their community is more than “America’s most dangerous” and violence in one part of the city says little about violence in another part of the city. Likewise, Americans should realize there is more to Mexico than drug wars and that violence in one region says little about violence in other regions.

Read more:

Bishop, M.A. (2006). Fast and frugal heuristics. Philosophy Compass, 1/2, 201-223.

Come on in, the water’s fine (Newsweek)

America’s most dangerous cities (Forbes)

Should you trust the airline industry?

By Kevin R. Betts

On a recent flight out of Detroit, I overheard an elderly couple arguing about whether or not they should have shared a suitcase. Bringing individual suitcases cost the couple $100 roundtrip, whereas sharing a suitcase would have only cost them $50. Fees for checked bags, as well as hidden costs associated with services like ticket changes, insurance, and booking flights by phone are common in the airline industry. Although base prices for flights often appear inexpensive, these prices do not reflect additional hidden fees that are usually incurred. Moreover, airlines are well known among the general public for variable base rate pricing, whereby different customers are charged different prices for the same tickets.

Given these concerns, many airline passengers have developed a jaded view of the airline industry. Recent research by Heyman and Mellers (2008) suggests that this can be expected. Investigating perceptions of fair pricing, they found that consumers who learn about variable pricing often feel betrayed. Moreover, companies that use variable pricing, but are caught trying to cover their tracks, are perceived as even worse. Although the airline industry may see short term financial gains by incorporating hidden fees and variable pricing methods, these gains may be outmatched by future losses as passengers lose trust in the industry.

As consumers, should we trust the airline industry? That decision needs to be made by each potential passenger, but what we should all be careful to do is stay informed. Are you willing to pay $350 for a ticket that the person sitting next to you paid $225 for? Are you willing to pay a processing fee for booking your flight by phone instead of over the internet? As consumers, these are important questions that we must consider.

Read more:

Rising air fare (New York Times)

Hidden fees aggravate air travelers (CNN)

Heyman, J.E., & Mellers, B.A. (2008). Perceptions of fair pricing. In C.P. Haugtvedt, P.M. Herr, & F.R. Kardes (Eds.), Handbook of consumer psychology (pp. 683-697). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Xie, Y. and Peng, S. (2009). How to repair customer trust after negative publicity: The roles of competence, integrity, benevolence, and forgiveness. Psychology and Marketing, 26, 572–589.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

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Why people choose to kill? The allure of terrorism.

The 23-year-old Nigerian who boarded an international flight for Detroit with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas Day reminded many people of the important lessons they learned from Sept. 11. Terrorism attracts worldwide attention again. Many people, especially the psychologists, start to think more about the motivation of terrorism and solution to it. What do the terrorists who attempted to strike U.S. territory in common? What is the allure of terrorism? Is religion the only reason?

Without systematic testing and empirical data it would be hubris to conclude that any social psychological model offers a solution in the fight against terror. Nevertheless, psychologists are trying to understand the motivation of terrorism from different perspectives. For example, in seeking to understand terrorism as an outcome of group identities and intergroup conflict, psychologists seek to understand the dynamics of heroic self-sacrifice and loyal commitment among actors who at the same time direct horrific violence to unwitting targets. They seek to evaluate terrorists’ motivations by solidarity with in-group members under threat, by passionate struggles against injustice, by complex learned and intuited political calculations, and by emergent group identities and norms.

For example, according to social identity theory, individuals are proposed to have not only identities as individuals but also identities as social groups. As people identify themselves as group members they can become motivated to see that group as distinct from and better than other groups. When people identify with a group in conflict, a self-sacrificing action may be seen as psychologically beneficial even though the action leads to harmful consequences on an individual level, because the action benefits the group which is a part of themselves. It is group norms for appropriate behavior which in turn shape beliefs about the benefit or cost to the group of actions such as terrorism (Louis, 2009).

The Allure of Terrorism (The New York Times)

Louis, W. R. (2009).Terrorism, Identity, and Conflict Management. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3, 433–446.

Louis, W. R. (2010).Teaching and Learning Guide for: Terrorism, Identity, and Conflict Management. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 89-92.