The reason why people refuse to use things that can make them safer is explored in a new study from University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University School of Law.
"People rely on airbags, smoke detectors, and vaccines to make them safe. Unfortunately, vaccines do sometimes cause disease and airbags sometimes injure or kill. But just because these devices aren't perfect doesn't mean consumers should reject them outright," said authors Andrew D. Gershoff and Johnathan J. Koehler.
Their study revealed that when consumers feel betrayed when they learn about the risks associated with safety products, their emotions provoke them to reject them.
They asked participants to choose between two cars: One was equipped with an airbag that was less likely to ultimately save a life in the event of a serious accident. The other car had an airbag that was more likely to save a life, but it also had a tiny chance of causing death due to the force of deploying it.
Most participants avoided the airbag that had just a miniscule chance of harming them, even though doing so would involve more harm.
"The findings show that people have strong emotional reactions when such safety devices have even a very small potential to betray them," the authors write.
"So rather than weighing the costs and benefits, they will reject these options outright, even if it makes them worse off for doing so."
The team suggests that people could be influenced to make safer choices by having them make their choices for strangers rather than for themselves.
"Although this last method may seem contradictory, it makes sense when one considers that people tend to be less emotional about making choices that don't involve themselves or people they care for," the authors concluded.
The study appears in the Journal of Consumer Research.