Friday, June 4, 2010

The Fear of Something Specific is More Real than the Fear of Something General

As humans, we fear the specific more than the general.

I stumbled upon this thought while reading Al Gore's "Assault on Reason". In one of the chapters, he gave the example of how people would rather buy air travel insurance that covers specifically terrorist threats compared to just a normal air travel insurance (which by the way, also covers terrorist threats).

Somehow, it seems that people are more afraid when they know the specifics of what they have to be afraid of.

Air travel insurance.... No way... But air travel insurance that covers terrorist attacks...Now, that paints a picture in the mind of the consumer and the fear of this improbable event becomes more real (Remember September 11?).

The fear of something specific - something we can visualise - is often more real than the fear of something general.

That is why we see advertisements about critical illness insurance that mentions specific illnesses like cancer. Critical illness just seems too general and nobody really knows what critical illness means anyway. But highlight the specifics and you sort of create a visual image in the person's head. Let me show you 2 scenarios that helps bring out a person's fear when the specifics are highlighted.

Scenario #1
Insurance agent: Let me show you this plan which gives you coverage for critical illness.
Consumer: I don't think I need insurance. (Thinking in his head: What on Earth is critical illness?? Better not ask.. Later I look stupid)

Scenario #2
Insurance agent: Let me show you this plan which provides coverage against Cancer, Heart Attack, Stroke...

Consumer: Wah... much does it cost?

The above just highlights two simple scenarios. It could be the same insurance product that is being recommended but when one highlights the specifics (cancer, heart attack, stroke, etc), the fear suddenly becomes real. The insurance agent has painted a picture in the person's mind of a specific scenario that could happen to him in the future.

Funny isn't it? Our mind (and ears) sometimes do play funny tricks on us.

The author is really amused that humans often fear the specifics more than the general even though the general could include the specifics. (Hope that does not confuse you). However, he too finds himself falling into this trap.


  1. "Critical illness just seems to general and nobody really knows what critical illness means anyway." I think you made a typo error. Should be "too general" rather than "to general"?

  2. Hi yang^2,

    Thanks for pointing out the typo. I type too fast at times to notice the errors.


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