I have a deeply irrational fear of flying, and, according to Time staffer Amanda Ripley, the author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes-and Why , my fellow aviaphobes and I fear planes because of the dread equation. Ripley explains in an interview with Mother Jones, dread=uncontrollability + unfamiliarity + imaginability + suffering + scale of destruction + unfairness. "The dread equation is a simplification, but it's a way to explain why we fear something so much when it is so unlikely," Ripley says. "Part of it is the lack of control. That's why we're more scared of plane crashes than car crashes even though we know rationally which is more dangerous." She also goes into how people react when placed into situations that have overwhelming dread quotients. Apparently women are more likely to survive hurricanes because most of the deaths come from driving through high water (and women aren't dumb enough to try that), and they're also more likely to follow evacuation orders to the T. However, women were more likely to die in the Southeast Asian tsunami. Why?
In part, women perished at a level of almost 3 to 1 in some villages, because they are less physically strong, on average. It takes a lot of arm strength to hold onto something, and that's how many people survived. It was also a cultural thing, says Ripley, because many women were not taught to swim. To save this post from being a complete bummer, I will leave you with some heartening words from Ms. Ripley: "[Survivors of disasters] felt a lot of fear in early stages, when they're just realizing what's happening. But then things really seemed to be at their peak of terror, the fear went away… At that moment your brain needs to focus all its attention on surviving, so people will feel a sense of calm as their brain tries to sort out a plan." You, too, can survive a plane crash — so down some Xanax and fly on out into the sunset, my fellow aviaphobics!
Five Ways to Survive Any Disaster [Mother Jones]