Tuesday 8 October at 8:30pm
Should I Risk It?
Mathematician and self-confessed ‘risk-avoider’ Lily Serna explores the psychology, neuroscience and maths of risk. She begins with a challenge. Having never so much as gone over the speed limit, Lily attempts to ‘powerslide’ a supercar. Although she’s safer on the skid pad than on the open road, she can’t get past her anxiety. Her brain won’t let her. Clearly, risk takers think differently.
Lily meets neuroscientist Steve Kassum at a skate park to find out how. They set the skaters a challenge – a cash prize to inflate a balloon. The bigger the balloon, the bigger the prize. These thrill seekers go for big money, happy to risk bursting the balloon and winning nothing, the reward centres in their brains driving them on.
There’s more to risk taking than how the brain is wired though. Lily meets someone who has done one of the riskiest things on earth, twice. Alyssa Azar is the youngest Aussie ever to climb Everest. Together they take on a new challenge – the flying Trapeze. Lily is again paralysed by panic, but Alyssa is calm and calculating, the opposite of a reckless thrill seeker.
Back on safe ground with mathematics, Lily explores ways to objectively measure risk using ‘Micromorts’ and Microlives’. Based on statistical studies, these measurements reveal that air travel is one of the safest forms of transport and that 20 minutes of exercise a day could give you an extra hour of life.
Logic, however, rarely plays a part in taking a risk. Would you, for instance, best $10 on coin flip? What if the prize was $20 and you still only lose $10? Or if the coin was flipped 100 times? With a spot of street science, Lily shows how our instinctual biases and aversion to loss, can make us misjudge risk.
In search of a system, Lily joins a group that face high risk situations all the time. She takes a command of a Fire and Rescue exercise, but it proves too much for her to handle. She discovers the importance of a technique called Recognition Primed Decision Making and strangely how crucial a firefighter’s instincts are.
Having to the measure of risk in a number of ways, Lily poses another question – are we taking enough? A rise in childhood anxiety in Australia would suggest not. Lily explores the growing trend in ‘loose parts’ play. This unstructured and largely unsupervised play encourages kids to risks. A group of 9-year-olds, watched on monitors by anxious parents, try out this new style of play, with remarkable results.
Production credits: Series Producer: Penny Palmer. Manager Science: Aidan Laverty.