36. Selectivity of attention

Often, when people are looking for certain weaknesses, for instance in the economy, they may tend to overfocus on one issue, like subprime mortgages. This causes a certain selectivity of attention, where there is then a tendency see everything through a lens pertaining to one issue, rather than the bigger picture.

This can lead to a vicious cycle of selective accumulation of information (confirmation bias) about only one aspect of instability in the system, ignoring the reasons for its basic stability, or other risks connected with the system. Overestimating the magnitude or importance of certain risks can then cause a society to become complacent with a certain expert or set of experts, confounding future preparation efforts. For instance, science fiction films that focus on robotic takeovers tend to emphasize unrealistic scenarios, such as robots with anthropomorphic psychology, and cause desensitization of the public at large to the very real risk of Artificial Intelligence in the longer term. Another example: in Thailand in 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit, the Warning Service decided not to inform the public, assuming it was a less severe event than it actually was, for fear of scaring tourists. Unfortunately, this cost many lives.