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her than with the president. But that constitutional safeguard began to erode in the 20th century because of the sense of perpetual crisis that emerged during the Cold War and escalated as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The calamitous nature of those attacks gave Americans a distorted sense of the true risk of being killed in a terrorist attack--which is quite low--and policy makers responded with an expansion of federal law enforcement powers, cumbersome security measures and a new war that may ultimately be self-defeating. If, for example, new airport screening procedures prompt more people to drive rather than fly, traffic fatalities will increase, and because driving is far more dangerous than flying, on balance more people will die, even assuming a steady rate of terrorist attacks.

"The problem of vivid, emotional miscalculation of risk is particularly acute in the context of antiterrorism, since fear is a particularly strong emotion, impervious to reason," Lobel said.

Lobel and Loewenstein do not, of course, suggest that emotions are always bad and point out that properly harnessed passions helped defeat Nazism, put a man on the moon and reduced air pollution. Yet political leaders can exploit emotions for their own ends, so as a society, we must recognize the havoc that emotions can play on public policy, and government should adopt legal safeguards that slow the pace of decision-making so that lawmakers have time to weigh the consequences of their choices.

"Human psychology hasn't changed much, but politicians and marketers have become ever more sophisticated when it comes to manipulating people by manipulating their emotions. One of the functions of law should be to keep deliberative control in the picture, especially at times of high emotion when it is needed the most," Loewenstein said.


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Contact: Jonathan Potts
jpotts@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University
20-Oct-2005


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