Tornado courtesy of NOAA

People seeking shelter during tornadoes and cyclones are often called back, or delayed, by people doing normal activities, who refuse to believe the emergency is happening. These people are displaying what’s known as normalcy bias. About 70% of people in a disaster do it. Although movies show crowds screaming and panicking, most people move dazedly through normal activities in a crisis. This can be a good thing; researchers find that people who are in this state are docile and can be directed without chaos. They even tend to quiet and calm the 10-15% of people who freak out.
The downside of the bias is the fact that they tend to retard the progress of the 10-15% of people who act appropriately. The main source of delay masquerades as the need to get more data. Scientists call this “milling.” People will usually get about four opinions on what’s going on and what they should do before taking any action — even in an obvious crisis. People in emergency situations report calling out to others, asking, “What’s going on?” When someone tells them to evacuate, or to take shelter, they fail to comply and move on, asking other people the same question. –Esther Inglis-Arkell

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story using normalcy bias to create conflict.

Journaling Prompt: When do you tend to deny danger, whether it’s a tornado or something more abstract, like overdue bills? How do you act?

Art Prompt: Normalcy Bias

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Inform your audience about normalcy bias and how it reveals information about our ability to deny what is in front of us. Give your audience strategies to break through denial.

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