April 4, 2012

Why the car seatbelt once had such difficulty in gaining acceptance by the public

I read this paragraph in Levitt and Dubner's Super Freakonomics (highly recommended), on the initially difficult introduction of car seatbelts to the general public, despite that it could save thousands of lives each year in America alone:
The brilliant ration-alist [Robert S. McNamara, then working at Ford] had encountered a central, frustrating tenet of human nature: behavior change is hard. The cleverest engineer or economist or politician or parent may come up with a cheap, simple solution to a problem, but if it requires people to change their behavior, it may not work. Every day, billions of people around the world engage in behaviors they know are bad for them - smoking cigarettes, gambling excessively, riding a motorcycle without a helmet.
Why? Because they want to! They derive pleasure from it, or a thrill, or just a break from the daily humdrum. And getting them to change their behavior, even with a fiercely rational argument, isn't easy.
Precisely. This might as well be the single most deadly weakness of human nature at large.

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