Beyond Jaws: Fear of Sharks & Human Psychology

I read “Jaws” in High School and that summer my family went to Myrtle Beach for vacation. For context, I was a swimmer; i swam on swinmimg teams, even did a short stint on a diving team, was a lifeguard and taught swimming for years. But that summer I literally did not step foot in the ocean. Can anyone relate? I eventually got over Benchley’s terrifying portrayal of sharks…mostly, but it took a while!

Apparently, I was not alone! The movie “Jaws” released in 1975, directed by Steven Spielberg, is largely responsible for perpetuating the image of sharks as bloodthirsty monsters. This film sparked widespread fear and negative perceptions of sharks, despite its fictional premise. The media's sensationalized portrayal of shark attacks has further amplified this fear, leading many to believe that sharks are a constant threat to human safety.

Known as Galeophobia, or fear of sharks, it’s estimated that just over 50% of Americans are absolutely terrified of Sharks! However, to put it in perspective the risk of an untimely encounter with a shark is only 1 in 3,748,067!

Cognitive Bias

The fear of sharks also stems from cognitive biases that influence how humans perceive and process information. The “availability heuristic” is one such bias, wherein we assess the likelihood of an event based on how easily we can recall similar instances. Since shark attacks garner significant media coverage, they are more readily available in our minds, leading us to overestimate the risk.

This week's Blog Posts Sponsored by True North Homeschool Academy

Psychology » True North Homeschool Academy Study Psychology! Give your kids a foundational understanding of Human Behavior with this excellent full year class, taught by an experienced Mental Health professional! Project based and excellent college prep course and great for College Prep or Honors Transcripts.

Understanding Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior and the mind, offering valuable insights into why we think, feel, and act the way we do. High school students who take psychology gain a deeper understanding of themselves and those around them, fostering empathy and open-mindedness to include, one would hope, an appreciation for the importance of sharks in the ocean eco-system!

Developing Emotional Intelligence

The study of Psychology often has a bad name- kind of like sharks. But gaining an understanding of psychology as the study of human behavior, students learn about emotions, their impact on decision-making, and strategies for managing them effectively. Developing emotional intelligence equips young minds with tools to navigate interpersonal relationships and cope with stress which contributes to overall mental well-being. And, just like learning about sharks helps us appreciate their contribution to their ecosystem, learning about human behavior equips us to better deal with humanity! And we can all use a little bit more understanding of our fellow homo sapiens

Confront Your Fear!

Psychology exposes students to the concepts of stereotypes, biases, and prejudices, prompting critical thinking about their own beliefs and societal norms. By understanding the roots of fear and prejudice, students can confront their fears and face them! Knowledge is power and allows us to make informed decisions rather than to go through life avoiding or reacting to everything that is stressful! Knowing that the likelihood that we'll experiencing a shark attack is so small allows us to make informed decisions about going to the beach and even getting in the water!

High School Psychology for the Win!

As mental health concerns continue to rise among young people, a psychology class can provide essential knowledge about mental health issues, symptoms, and available resources. It empowers students to support their peers and seek help when needed, reducing the stigma associated with mental health challenges. Just like Sharks have gotten a bad rap in the past, so has common mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, which have definitely increased among youth since 2020. A little knowledge and understanding can go long way towards peace, calm and knowing when to ask for help!

Preparing for the Future

We're in a time of societal disruption and many industries are changing swiftly. You could say it's a shark eat shark world right now (is that even a thing)?! But, as we continue towards a more technologically astute future, the Empath Economy will continue to grow and expand. The Empath Economy is anything to do with emotional or physical health, so fields in physical therapy or chiropractic, pastoral ministries and mental health will continue to grow. Psychology is a versatile field with applications in various professions, such as counseling, social work, marketing, gamification and human resources. By introducing psychology in high school, students are exposed to potential career paths and may discover a passion for helping others or understanding human behavior.

The fear of sharks, perpetuated by media and cognitive biases, has led to misconceptions about these vital creatures. However, by understanding the ecological importance of sharks, we can dispel these fears and promote a more empathetic perspective toward marine life.

Similarly, psychology offers high school students a powerful tool to understand themselves and others, challenging stereotypes and biases, and promoting mental health awareness. By taking psychology classes, students gain valuable life skills and the ability to approach fear with rationality and empathy.

I'm happy to report that I've spent many happy hours at the beach since that summer long ago! Just last month we had a great time enjoying the ocean water in Galvaston, Texas! Not a shark in sight!

Lisa Nehring
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