Tag Archives: scapegoats

Undocumented Workers and the Availability Heurestic

There’s a lot going on this week that is alarming. The news that Trump is planning to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented workers is one of them.¬†As someone with a background in psychology, let me explain.

You know how flying an airplane is the safest way to travel but people think it’s dangerous or get nervous flying? Well, the reason is because of the availability heuristic. We think airplanes crashes are common because when they happen, we hear them about them on the news, when in actually, airplanes crashes are rare, which is why they make the news. Meanwhile, car crashes which are extremely common and happen everyday, don’t make the news and people don’t worry about getting into a car, even though it is the most dangerous thing each of us will do on a daily basis.

When I was teaching psychology I would have my students raise their hand if they’d ever been in a car accident versus a plane crash. Most would raise their hand for car crash, but no one had ever been in a plane crash. Even with this, my students would still have a hard time accepting that planes were safe because they could all remember hearing about plane crashes on the news, and not car crashes.

Now, the data tells us that undocumented workers are no more likely to commit crimes than other people, and that they don’t bring waves of crime into the US. Yet if Trump publishes a weekly list singling out undocumented workers, well, think about this in the context of the availability heuristic and put two and two together.

Here it is spelled out. The list goes out, people here about it on a weekly basis, so contrary to what statistics and other evidence tells us, people think undocumented workers cause more crime than they do, and you basically build a scapegoat. Undocumented workers don’t cause crime. The causes of crime are complex and stem from multiple sources. Creating scapegoats will not do anything about crime, but it will create a vulnerable group of people for others to target their anger at.

Bottom line, this is wrong, and the consequences are horrendous to contemplate on.

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