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Misfearing: A Reply

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School

Harvard Law Review, 2006
U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 274

Human beings are prone to "misfearing": Sometimes they are fearful in the absence of significant danger, and sometimes they neglect serious risks. Misfearing is a product of bounded rationality, and it produces serious problems for individuals and governments. This essay is a reply to a review of Laws of Fear by Dan M. Kahan, Paul Slovic, Donald Braman, and John Gastil, who contend that "cultural cognition," rather than bounded rationality, explains people's fears. The problem with their argument is that cultural cognition is a product of bounded rationality, not an alternative to it. In particular, cultural differences are largely a product of two mechanisms. The first involves social influences, by which people's judgments are influenced by the actual or apparent views of others. The second involves "normative bias," by which people's factual judgments are influenced by their moral and political commitments. Once cultural cognition is thus understood, it can be seen that democratic governments need not respond to people's fears, regardless of their foundations. Democracies respond to people's values, but not their errors.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 23

Keywords: Laws of Fear, Dan M. Kahan, Paul Slovic, Donald Braman, John Gastil

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Date posted: February 1, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Misfearing: A Reply. Harvard Law Review, 2006; U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 274. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=880123

Contact Information

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts Ave
Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)
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