Published: March 1, 2010

If you are planning a trip abroad, how do you evaluate if a country is safe?

According to CU associate professor Leaf Van Boven, pay attention to when you receive travel information because it could play a role in how you perceive risk.

In an experiment, the psychology professor and his team asked a group of undergraduate students to imagine traveling to Kenya and Bali, Indonesia. Then he gave them travel advisories from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that warned of terrorist activity in both countries. Participants read the advisories and reported on which country seemed to have the greater terrorist threat.

Many said the country they had read about last was the most dangerous, despite the fact the travel warnings contained comparable threat levels.

Van Boven says the study reveals how people respond strongly to what is right in front of them, which has ramifications in today’s 24-hour society where we experience talk radio, the Internet and print media coverage of the “threat of the day.”

“Whatever the threat of the season is can ‘crowd out’ concern about other threats even if those other threats are actually more dangerous,” Van Boven says. “One worry is some people are aware of these kinds of effects and can use them to manipulate our actions in ways that we may prefer to avoid.”