Written by Lise A. Johnson and Eric Chudler
Reviewed by Kathryn Metro
In Lise Johnson and Eric Chudler’s new book, two scientists investigate some of our most common anxieties. Worried? seeks to relieve some of our anxiety by teaching us to take control of the situations that cause us to worry. The authors claim that taking control involves “critically evaluating potential threats, determining what poses the greatest danger, and prioritizing your actions to minimize adverse outcomes” (pg. 2) and this is exactly what they achieve in their book.
The authors have created a worry index to quickly assess the risk involved in each fear. These scores are made up of three components: preventability, likelihood, and consequence. The three factors are represented in a graph where the y-axis is preventability, the x-axis is likelihood, and the size of the marker represents the consequence. There are four quadrants of each graph, and the authors propose that fears that land in the upper right quadrant are the only ones worth worrying about since they are preventable, likely to happen, and potentially serious.
Some fears that are considered serious include: alcohol, sugar, food safety, mercury, lead, dogs, and mosquitos. The authors direct us to examine the bottom right quadrant of worries if we are feeling letdown by how mundane the most serious worries are, because this quadrant includes two big scary circles that correspond to antibiotics in feed animals and medical errors. These issues are scary because they are likely to happen, have serious consequences, but are not preventable. There isn’t much comfort knowing that these things are difficult to prevent, but the authors advise readers not to spend time and attention worrying about them for this reason.
Worried? does not just address our greatest fears, but also provides useful insight on how to cope with their existence. The authors point out that it is natural to be concerned about personal pain and suffering, but we have to confront the fact that we are not immortal in spite of our best efforts. The book is both factual in its evaluation of everyday anxieties and insightful in its explanation of how to make sense of the information that we’re exposed to.
Lise A. Johnson is a biomedical engineer, educator, and writer from Colorado. She is the director of Basic Science Curriculum and Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies at Rocky Vista University.
Eric Chudler is the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering and a neuroscientist at the University of Washington. He also hosts the popular website Neuroscience for Kids.
Kathryn Metro studies Applied Psychology at New York University and is set to graduate in 2021. She has interned in classrooms in the Greater New York City area, and has interests in communications, Spanish, and working with children.
Johnson, L., & Chudler, E. (2019). Worried?: Science investigates some of life’s common concerns. NY: W.W. Norton & Company.