Originally published at

Ok maybe I went a bit far. But, the title of this blog is an experiment. It’s clickbait. Whether it worked is up to you being honest to yourself: did the fact the title was designed to slightly scare you make you want to click on it more?

What’s at work here is what Dan Gardner calls our ‘gut’ in his book ‘Risk’. He splits the brain into two parts: Head and Gut. Head is the rational one, who thinks about things objectively and without emotion, but he can be rather lazy (it’s an effort to use head). Gut is the part of our brain associated with emotional and that ‘gut’ feeling we get when something is just right or wrong. Gut is an easy part of the brain to use, and it’s the one active when we just want to ‘veg out’. Gut says, get me pizza, Facebook and a sofa…

Back to the clickbait. The reason it is in the interest of the media, blogs like this one, news programmes, newspapers and corporations to use titles or themes like the one I’ve fictitiously used is because FEAR SELLS. Fear makes money. Fear is a fantastic marketing tool, seriously. That’s why we can’t turn on the TV or open a magazine without seeing it at work.

Fear sells because it acts on our ‘gut’ (the emotion part of our brain). When we see a story like ‘A story you can’t afford to miss!’ our gut goes crazy and tells us we need to read the story (or more increasingly, watch the video) because we could be in awful danger if we don’t. It might even be subtler though. We thirst for social acceptance as humans. If the title stipulates that we could be missing out on an opportunity for social gain, it also scares us in a more subconscious way.

What’s the problem with this? Sometimes the threat and dangers people write about are true: “there is a genuine chance of me being injured or affected by XYZ, I would rather know about it than not”. Absolutely, I agree. However, a great deal of what the media purports to be important or a threat can be quite shockingly fabricated. Try this example I’ve took from the book:

This is a typical example of the press taking advantage of our commonly accepted beliefs as a society (we tend to think the same as our peers), and intensifying them by fear mongering using very dubious sources. This is very troubling, because a lot of what we take as accepted knowledge comes from such sources.

Dan Gardner concludes by saying that a balanced perspective is vital. If you feel strongly about something, try to use ‘head’ to research information about it, then make your judgements. I know I’m going to start doing so.

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