Saturday, September 24, 2011

Deep Questions about Rationality

All the time I was in Afghanistan I never used a seat belt nor did I ever see anyone else use a seat belt. Now the driving conditions in Afghanistan and the habits of Afghan drivers make one's chances of getting in a wreck several times higher than one's chance in the US. And yet just as I would never think of not wearing a seat belt in the US I never once seriously considered wearing one in Afghanistan.

Now I don't know why this is the case. There are two possible answers presented by theory. One is that we make decisions based not the absolute level of risk but on the proportional level of risk. The risk of driving around in Afghanistan, indeed of being in Afghanistan at all, is perceived as so high that the marginal increase in risk from not wearing a seat belt is simply not large enough to justify a behavioral response such as wearing seat belts.

The other hypothesis that I can think of is a social norm explanation. No one wears a seat belt in Afghanistan because no one wears a seat belt in Afghanistan. You just want to do what everyone else is doing.

Ideas? Any economists want to weigh in? Sociologists? Humans?

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