How Near-Miss Events Amplify or Attenuate Risky Decision Making


Catherine H. Tinsley, Robin L. Dillon
McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057
Matthew A. Cronin
School of Management, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030,

How Near-Miss Events Amplify or Attenuate Risky Decision Making (pdf)

In the aftermath of many natural and man-made disasters, people often wonder why those affected were underprepared, especially when the disaster was the result of known or regularly occurring hazards (e.g., hurricanes). We study one contributing factor: prior near-miss experiences. Near misses are events that have some nontrivial expectation of ending in disaster but, by chance, do not. We demonstrate that when near misses are interpreted as disasters that did not occur, people illegitimately underestimate the danger of subsequent hazardous situations and make riskier decisions (e.g., choosing not to engage in mitigation activities for the potential hazard). On the other hand, if near misses can be recognized and interpreted as disasters that almost happened, this will counter the basic “near-miss” effect and encourage more mitigation. We illustrate the robust- ness of this pattern across populations with varying levels of real expertise with hazards and different hazard contexts (household evacuation for a hurricane, Caribbean cruises during hurricane season, and deep-water oil drilling). We conclude with ideas to help people manage and communicate about risk.

Key words: near miss; risk; decision making; natural disasters; organizational hazards; hurricanes; oil spills History: Received June 29, 2010; accepted November 27, 2011, by Teck Ho, decision analysis. Published online in Articles in Advance

Additional paper: Near-misses and future disaster preparedness.