September 22, 2017

Credit: Sean MacEntee / Flickr / Creative Commons

Did you know there hasn’t been a fatal commercial plane crash in the US since 2009? So why do we still get sweaty palms before takeoff? Eugenia Cheng, a mathematician at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, explains the math behind our fears… and how we might be able to overcome them.

Three Takeaways 

  • Flying makes us nervous because the stakes are very, very high. Even though we know a plane crash is unlikely, if it does happen, the outcome is probably not going to be good.
  • If a flight is going to have problems, statistics show that it’ll likely be during takeoff. Knowing this, Cheng listened to a recording of a jet engine revving up while sitting on her couch at home. She began to associate the sound with the comfort of home.
  • Our fears are often rooted in some kind of rationality, says Cheng. And sometimes math can help us dissect them.

More reading 

innovation hub, Eugenia Cheng, pri, Kara Miller, WGBH

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