In the Second World War, the Germans were bombing London. The British command was afraid that the number of casualties during the first week could even climb to 250,000. As the bombings started, the media predicted that millions of Londoners would flee their homes and cause the British war industry to halt completely.
The outcome was not as grim. There were 46,000 casualties, but amidst the ruins, the life kept on going. Crazy Brits kept their cool and did not hesitate with their daily routines.
A Canadian psychiatrist J.T. MacCurdy explained the phenomenon by dividing the people into three different groups.
- The least meaningful, and the smallest group, as far as the explanation was concerned, was the those who died by a bomb.
- The traumatized people, whom the bombs either wounded or who lost someone close to them. But they too were a small number compared to the entire population.
- The largest group by far were the third group of Londoners. The people, who heard the sirens, saw the bombers and could witness the explosions from afar, but were left unharmed.
MacCurdy noticed that feeling the crisis and the tension related to it always caused the largest group a false sense of invulnerability. The same phenomenon always seems to repeat, where crises emerge. It increases the morale of the victims to unusual proportions.
Illusions of invulnerability are beneficial to people who live among the terrors of the war. They also bring people to stand united even in the face of terrorism. The human mind is incredible, but at the same time so flawed.
The same mechanics, however, produces the optimism bias. An unrealistic belief that we will avoid all harm tomorrow too.
Every experience of close calls enforces the illusion of invulnerability. It happens in driving and sports as well as in software projects.
So, have you had a close call? Good… If you are not at war, be grateful and ensure it will not affect your judgment about the future.