Why We Fear What We Can’t Control: Airplanes, Hospital, Old Age | Tali Sharot


When we want to change people’s behavior,
we often say, “Do this. Don’t to do that.” Basically we are, a lot of times, giving orders—whether
it is to our kids, people in our family, people that we work with—we are exerting control
over others or at least attempting to exert control over others. But what we find is that what the brain is
trying to do… it’s trying to control its environment. That’s one of the major goals of what the
brain is trying to do. And it’s trying to do that in order to get
rewards and avoid losses. And because of that, in the brain control
has been associated with something good, with a reward, and it’s something that people
seek out. If people can make a choice, the same part
of the brain that is activated when people get a piece of food like a piece of chocolate
is activated when people have the opportunity to make a choice. When people don’t have an opportunity to
make a choice, when they feel they don’t have control, what is triggered is anxiety. And so what this means is that giving people
a choice—giving people a sense that they are in the control, that they have agency—is
more likely to motivate them, is more likely to put them in the frame of a reward rather
than a loss. And because control in and of itself is rewarding,
a lot of times people will be willing to give up other kinds of rewards like monetary rewards
in order to have control. For example, in a study that I conducted with
my colleagues we gave people the opportunity to either make choices themselves about random
shapes that can give them rewards, or give another person, an expert, an opportunity
to make a choice for them. And what we found is that people sub-optimally
make the decision to keep the agency, to keep the choice themselves rather than have an
expert make the choice for them even if the expert was more likely to choose the correct
thing, to choose a thing that will get them more money. So a way to think about it: it’s a bit like
the stock market. So a lot of people like to pick their own
stocks instead of giving someone else the opportunity to choose for them—experts are
even better, going according to an index. And the reason that people like to pick their
own stocks is because it gives them a sense of control, it gives them a sense of agency,
and that gives them reward. And many times people realize that there might
be a monetary loss. Some people are overconfident, they think
well I’ll pick the right thing, and that’s fine, but they still are willing to lose part,
to have a monetary loss, to make the choice themselves. So in fact in general people prefer to make
their own choices, but there are incidents where people would rather give away their
choice. For example, when the choice is so complicated,
the effort is so… so much effort has to be put into it… I would rather not do it and give someone
else the opportunity to make the choice for me. Or for example, under high amounts of stress
people sometimes realize that it’s better to have someone else make the choice for them. Or for example, when making a choice people
are afraid that they will regret what they choose (such as in medical decisions) they
sometimes actually prefer to have someone else make the choice for them. And in the book I talk about the things that
people are scared of the most, and the fears that we have are not necessarily rational. So people, for example, a lot of people are
scared of flying; so if you look at the numbers flying is not necessarily the most dangerous
thing that you do. Driving your own car is more dangerous, but
people are afraid of flying because one of the reasons is that once you’re in the plane
you don’t have control anymore, you don’t have control over the plane, you don’t have
control of anything really of your environment. So the sense of being in this space where
you’re losing control completely, giving it to someone else, is something that people
feel anxious about. Now, they don’t want to take control. I don’t want to fly the plane. I know I will be dead if I fly the plane,
but never the less I feel anxious, and I think that’s true in other domains like health. One of the reasons that being in a hospital
is anxiety-provoking, not only because you’re sick—and that’s very anxiety provoking—but
also because, again, you lose control. Everyone is making the decision for you, as
they should: the doctors and the nurses. I mean people should have some say, but they
realize that the experts are making the choices for them and that sense of losing control,
again, can cause anxiety. And one thing that studies have shown is that
as we age, as we go into older age we lose some of our control (especially if we go to
nursing homes). Other people make the choices for us and that
induces stress on an individual as well, because no longer can I choose what will I do and
when will I do it, and giving people a sense of control back can help them. Again, with kids, people tend to tell kids
exactly what to do, when to do it and so on, and kids are not happy with that. But we could change that: instead of telling
the kids, “Well you have to eat your salad,” maybe say, “Well why don’t you create
your own salad? Here are the different ingredients, and put
them together—create them.” And one study that we’ve done showed that
when people—and is not only us, we did one example of this, there’s many, many studies
showing that—when you create something you value it more. So we did a study where people created their
own Converse shoes and they liked the Converse shoes that they created much more than the
Converse shoes which looked exactly the same that someone else created—same color or
same shape everything was exactly the same—but if I created it I liked it more. Moreover, even if I didn’t create it but
I thought I created it, I believed I created it, I wrongly had a memory that I created
the shoe, I liked it better. So if you feel like you have agency in something—whether
it’s a product, whether is an idea—then you feel like it’s worth more. And it doesn’t actually have to be a true
perception, you just have to have a perception of an agency, a perception of a control in
order to value that thing more, and that’s what we’ve shown in our study looking at
how people create shoes and how they value them.

37 Replies to “Why We Fear What We Can’t Control: Airplanes, Hospital, Old Age | Tali Sharot”

  1. Instead of using the example of getting kids to eat salad with not use the example of getting people hooked on opium pills. The salad industry is not a heavyweight compared to the drug industry.

  2. Sorry, but I have to disagree. Regardless of what your studies "show", I think you're confusing cause and effect. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Doing studies on chickens/eggs won't reveal the answer. Everybody was born "out of control", because nobody chose to be born. However, not everybody was born fearful. Some were born with a sense of belonging (loving parents), and some were born as rejects (not fitting in anywhere), and some were born somewhere in between. The issue of trust is a major factor here. How you address that issue is more important than other "values". If you ask the wrong question, you're 100% guaranteed to get the wrong answer. Do you trust all studies that everyone does? Do you even trust your own? People with agendas have a tendency to be blind/unaware of their own faults. I'm not saying it's bad to have an agenda. I'm just saying that you shouldn't let the agenda blind you. Does the end justify the means? Regardless of the right answer, some people don't even give it a passing thought.

  3. Very insightful video! In the book Drive by Daniel Pink he also talks about how being in control of our work makes us more motivated to accomplish more and do a better job.

  4. Interesting message. I agree that providing someone with a choice will produce a more lasting behavioral change. Even if the choice is limited. Agency produces loss aversion.

    🌎 https://youtu.be/9-ga5BJobHQ

  5. The fact that we can explain all of our behaviour and thoughts, feelings etc by looking at the brain is incredibly depressing and fear inducing to me.

  6. I suppose I'm the minority on this, but I feel fear or stress only when I'm in control. If there is something that I can do to change it, I feel I should or at least could and wonder what I should do. When I am not in control, there is nothing I can do and so there is no point in worrying. Why worry about something you can't change? The description says that's why people are afraid of planes but not cars. I have never understood that, I've always been terrified of cars but fine with planes. I refuse to drive because it is incredibly stressful; I am responsible for whatever happens, I know that I could have avoided any problems I get into, and I know it was an irresponsible decision to use such a dangerous machine in the first place. On a plane, it's safe and there's nothing I can do but wait regardless of what happens during the flight.

  7. I heard from a Ted talk (I don't remember which one) that there are also cultural factors. American kids did better on tests when they were given more control, but Japanese kids did better when their parents were given more control.

  8. If you truly believe that we fear what we cannot control then take a good look at the people you have chosen to surround yourself with. I guarantee they are WEAK individuals who have zero ability to regulate their primal compulsions.

  9. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
    -Viktor Frankl
    We ALWAYS have a choice, It’s the cowardly habitual response to blame, conflict and victimhood that blinds us to that truth.

  10. Wasn't that "Dying in a car is 3 times more likely than dying in a plane" proven to be false some time ago?
    Due to people actually spending WAY MORE of their life times in a car compared to in planes?

  11. Not only is she a sexy hot blonde but what makes her even more sexy creamy strawberries on top is she is so intelligent.

  12. It's interesting to see her catch mistakes in how she says some things and offering a softer, more acceptable version, a second later. It feels like she's using a portion of her mind on presenting the idea and another part on hearing and checking what leaves her mouth.

  13. Thank you for giving examples of situations where people don't have controll. I guess I'll search for a video that DOES explain WHY this happens than, instead of a video that explains things everybody already knows

  14. This makes sense. Although, it should be added that peace of mind can not only come from having more choices and self determination, it can also come from a sense that one has absolutely no control of anything. One day i just woke up and realized that "I" am just a bag of chemicals and electrical impulses that responds to mostly faulty sense information by using mostly faulty memories of past experience. I've NEVER been in control of anything, even my own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and neither has anyone else. Since then, I've never felt even the tiniest twinge of anxiety or guilt, and I've never felt another impulse to pass judgement on anyone. If a branch snaps off of a tree and hits me in the head, that tree has just as little to repent for than a human being who punches me in the face. I finally understand Spike Speigle when he says "I'm just having a bad dream that I can't wake up from". And my life is all the better for it. Misfortune has lost it's sting, and my own suffering is more likely to make me shake my head and laugh than it is to make me cry. It reminds me of the time i tried to kill myself by taking all of my remaining blood pressure pills in the bottle. The next day I woke up and felt fine, and I went to the hospital to get mental help. A nurse, who didn't know the specifics of my case, gave me a bunch of tests and said "wow, your blood pressure looks great". After she left I looked up at the ceiling and laughed and thought "Maybe you exist after all, old man in the sky. If so, then well played good sir, well played. And thank you.".

  15. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

    The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed. -Epictetus

  16. Stocks are a bad example. Most consumer level investors "experts" are schmucks who pitch products and funds for kickbacks.
    You can outperform most professional portfolios by trend following blue chip companies with a weighted distribution. Basically, you invest the most in the ones that have performed the best.

    With very little education and a little practice and a lot of discipline (its not a slot machine) you can average more than most hedge funds, because you're probably not investing millions or billions and professional funds are. Its much harder to find places to put lots of money than it is to put a little money, and still make money.

    I think there's also an element of trust. Just because someone calls themselves and expert, or someone else calls them an expert, doesn't mean that they know what they're talking about at all. I'd be interested in a similar experiment where the expert gradually earns their trust through honest education of their expert decisions and proving their decisions. I think you'd have a much different outcome.

  17. The final stage of Enlightenment is to let everything go, allow everything to control itself as you are just the observer, not the actor. Many people have a huge problem with this idea, my mother included.

  18. "The reason why people like to pick their own stock is because it gives them a sense of control."
    No, no, no.
    It is because it COST MORE to hire a financial adviser to pick stocks for you.

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