Dead­lier than the male?

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS ASIDES & INSIDES -

Which scares you more: Hur­ri­cane Vic­tor or Vic­to­ria? People are slightly less likely to flee an on­com­ing storm with a fem­i­nine name than a mas­cu­line one, a new study finds.

But here is Vic­to­ria’s se­cret: Hur­ri­canes with fem­i­nine names turn out to be dead­lier in the U.S. than their more ma­chosound­ing coun­ter­parts, prob­a­bly be­cause their monikers make people un­der­es­ti­mate their dan­ger, re­searchers con­cluded. And the pub­lic health im­pli­ca­tions are real, since more people died dur­ing storms with more fem­i­nine names.

The study was pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences.

In six ex­per­i­ments, more than 1,000 test sub­jects told be­hav­ioral sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Cham­paign that they were slightly more likely to evac­u­ate from an on­com­ing storm named Christo­pher than Christina, Vic­tor than Vic­to­ria, and Alexan­der than Alexan­dra. They found fe­male names less fright­en­ing.

“People are look­ing for mean­ing in any in­for­ma­tion that they re­ceive,” said study co-au­thor Sharon Shavitt, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing. “The name of the storm is pro­vid­ing people with ir­rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion that they ac­tu­ally use.”

Hur­ri­cane and dis­as­ter sci­ence ex­perts, such as MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, were skep­ti­cal at first. But af­ter more con­sid­er­a­tion, some found merit in the work, not­ing that it is more about psy­chol­ogy than phys­i­cal sci­ence. Emanuel joked that per­haps me­te­o­rol­o­gists should start us­ing scarier-sound­ing names, such as Jack-the-Ripper or King Kong.

But Su­san Cut­ter, of the Univer­sity of South Carolina’s Haz­ards and Vul­ner­a­bil­ity Re­search In­sti­tute, called the re­sults co­in­ci­den­tal.

So who scares you more? Names on tap from the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice for this At­lantic hur­ri­cane sea­son, which started June 1, in­clude the not-tooin­tim­i­dat­ing Arthur, Bertha, Dolly, Fay, Hanna, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Nana and Wil­fred.

Did a less-threat­en­ing name make res­i­dents of Coney Is­land take Hur­ri­cane Sandy less se­ri­ously in 2012?

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