A Psychologist Talks About Normalcy Bias and Situational Awareness

Years ago when I was in junior high school, I had a shop teacher who would occasionally get exasperated with one of us and ask the question, “What makes a man be that way?” It’s a question I find myself asking many times.

So what is it that keeps so many people from prepping? And how can it be overcome?

To talk about that on this week’s DestinySurvival Radio was clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Futrell. He was on the show previously, and you can read about that interview here. This time Steven and I dissected two broad topics–normalcy bias and situational awareness.

Normalcy bias

This is the idea that people believe nothing bad will happen because it hasn’t happened before. It’s also known as analysis paralysis, incredulity response or the ostrich effect. Of course, that last one refers to someone behaving like an ostrich who puts its head in the sand.

Many people can’t get their head around the idea that things could get bad. Many simply refuse to accept the truth. It doesn’t help when the media bombards us with the idea that we’re in economic recovery, even though they say it may be a slow one. It’s easier and more comfortable to believe that kind of message.

Is there a way to move people beyond this and into prepping? Does FEMA’s National Preparedness Month each September help? After all, authority carries a lot of sway with each of us. And maybe it takes a nudge from officials before people get it.

Nonetheless, even disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, Hurricane Katrina and more recently Isaac don’t seem to move people. It’s a real problem.

It’s compounded by the fact that you and I have a credibility problem with friends and family members. They’re prone to think we’re extremists or even nuts. Is there a way around this? Will asking probing questions motivate people to think? What about giving prepping related gifts?

Situational awareness

This is the opposite side of the coin. It means paying attention to your environment and those around you. And you don’t have to be on a survival camping trek in the wilderness to put this into practice.

It’s a good idea to anticipate possible problems and get mentally ready for them. Doing thought experiments can help. For example, ask yourself what you’d do if you were mugged? How would you handle it if you lost your job?

But how do we determine what threats are real and which ones aren’t likely? Be objective. Ask yourself a few questions.

For example, how likely is it that you’ll be hit by a meteorite today? How relevant to your prepping are the events in today’s news? Should you be frightened or persuaded by what so-called authorities are telling us?

Understand it’s not possible to prepare for absolutely everything. But we don’t have to become overwhelmed. Focus. Prioritize. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Take baby steps with your prepping endeavors.

Steven and I wrapped up our chat by talking about the typical reactions to the “fight or flight” response. Besides fight or flight, we may freeze up or surrender.

I raised the idea of how odd it was that no one disarmed the shooter at the Batman movie in Colorado. Was everyone so panicked they could only surrender in resignation? Was this a bad case of normalcy bias where such an event was incomprehensible? Wasn’t that a situation when someone should have put himself at risk to save the lives of others?

Hear my entire discussion with Dr. Futrell by listening to DestinySurvival Radio for September 6, 2012.

Author: John Wesley Smith

John Wesley Smith writes and podcasts from his home in Central Missouri. His goal is to help preppers as he continues along his own preparedness journey.