The vast majority of people don’t worry much at all about getting into a car. Like a lot of other people, I myself have been known to do it multiple times in the same day. I’ve headed out to work, to the store, to home, and then later left go on a date before driving back home after. Rolling the dice over and over again.
Traveling by car is one of the riskiest things that most people do. The exact odds of dying in a car crash change from year to year (as new data comes in), but in the United States, about 1 in 100 people who are born will eventually die that way (1 in 103 by the latest numbers).
That’s pretty darn dangerous. Especially compared to air travel. The chance that you’ll be killed in an airplane crash is 1 in 11 million for a single commercial flight and 1 in 188,364 over the course of an entire lifetime of flying to and fro.
Over the course of a lifetime, traveling by car is much, much more likely to be lethal than flying in airplanes.
I try to remind myself of this whenever I fly. And yet, as the plane lifts off and I feel the pressure changes in the cabin, I can’t quite relax.
Part of it might be that I’m not in control. But I don’t feel quite this level of anxiety when I’m riding shotgun in a car, another situation where I don’t really have that much control either. A friend might be driving, but I’m not the one pushing the pedals or moving the wheel. The one who is at least supposed to be paying attention.
No, it’s something else that makes me stir crazy about planes. A small part of me can’t stop replaying old news stories about crashes.
You took the biggest risk of your day already when you drove to the airport, I’ll remind myself. This is the safe part. And then I’ll try to distract myself with a good book.
The Availability Heuristic
The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut we use when evaluating information. It causes us to operate under the premise that if something is easily remembered or recalled, then it must be more important or more common than other things that aren’t as easy for us to recall.
Media plays a large part in this. Media is devoted to covering the exceptional — and often the tragic — and paying it an awful lot of attention. Broadcasting that coverage out to lots of people who will also pay an awful lot of attention. And remember it later.
And over the course of a lifetime, exposure to media makes it likely that we will greatly overestimate the odds of rare events happening.
But media coverage isn’t the only time that availability heuristic comes into play.
For example, many people overestimate how common it is that they have to deal with everyday annoyances like having to wait in a long line before being served. Because they remember the annoying times and don’t really notice (and therefore don’t remember) all the times that things ran smoothly and they zipped right through.
A situation in which you might have to wait a bit before being served perhaps 25% of the time (a minority of the time but one which can come to feel like a regular occurrence) will easily get encoded into your brain as “It’s always so busy here.”†
It’s Easy to Underestimate the Number of Pro-Polyamory Monogamous People Out There
As a person who operates a polyamorous website and manages an online community, I find that availability heuristic is a constant fixture. It’s something I’m often contending with personally — and that others around me are being affected by.
I don’t talk very often about raw stats on this blog because frankly they aren’t interesting to most people. But I need to do that now in order to put things into perspective.
Since it was launched, the Poly Land website has reached over 300,000 people, many of whom still read us regularly. Posts from our Facebook page (where I post articles from me and others, memes, and jokes) have an even wider spread out into the big bad world, reaching about 2 million people on any given week. Some of these folks sought us out themselves, but others didn’t, only discovering us because someone they know visits us regularly.
Every now and then, I’ll have an awful interaction with a monogamous person who is vehemently anti-polyamory.
But you know what? It happens far less often than you would think it would. And frankly, far less often than how it sometimes feels, when I get wrapped up in availability heuristic or negativity bias.
If I didn’t explicitly review the data I would find it incredibly easy to overestimate how many trolls I actually encounter. So I make a point to actually sit down and look at the actual frequencies, poring through comments, messages, public shares, and mentions as well as the raw back-end analytics.
Taken together, they paint a starkly different picture than Anti-Polyamory Trolls Gone Wild. With the whole picture in place, I find it’s actually much more common that I interact with monogamous people who are supportive of polyamory or curious about it.
I get the most amazing letters from readers who say things like this:
“Wow! This mirrors my life almost exactly, except for the polyamory. Eye opening. Maybe I was off base about poly people.”
“I’m not poly, but I love your articles. The way that you intentionally shape your relationships is what I want in my monogamous life. I’m learning a lot.”
“Most of the time I don’t even feel like I’m reading a poly page. It’s just good stuff.”
“I started reading you out of morbid curiosity. I figured you’d be a good ‘hate read,’ but you actually make good points. I’m finding myself agreeing with you more and more.”
So maybe you’ll see some anti-polyamory trolls out there in the wild, kicking about even in poly communities. It’s going to happen. New (or newer) ideas typically face resistance. And when they’re annoying, you’ll likely find yourself getting annoyed (I usually do). But when you feel annoyed, try not to let that skew your sense of how common they are. And try not to let it eclipse the fact that there are plenty of pro-polyamory monogamous folks out there.
After all, at this current time, approximately one third of Poly Land’s readership is monogamous.
†That is, of course, unless other places you frequently visit are even busier. In which case, you’ll likely have some interplay of social comparison and/or framing effects — more on that later.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.