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Cognitive bias in the evaluation of avalanche risk

Project researchers

Overconfidence is a well-established bias in which someone's subjective confidence in their own judgments is systematically greater than their objective accuracy. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that overconfident people increase their exposure to risk. The aim of the present research is to explore how overconfidence, and other cognitive factors, behaviourally affect decisions under the threat of “black swan” events (i.e. events with low probability of occurring but potential dramatic consequences), in particular an avalanche accident. Winter mountaineering is a paradigmatic field to test the effect of overconfidence on the decision making process. In fact, the consequence of the decision may be the very life of the skier. To a large extent, the decision taken by backcountry skiers is not driven by the objective evidence. It is rather based on the skier own judgment. Therefore, the degree of confidence the backcountry skier has on her own judgement plays a crucial role. In this research, we measured individual cognitive traits and then test whether overconfident people underestimate the probability of incurring an avalanche accident.

2013 to 2015