The South Korean Fan Death Mystery
Dr Long’s New book “REAL RISK – Human Discerning and Risk” is packed with interesting little stories and anecdotes.
The idea that humans assess risk objectively, or
just calculate risk based on some common criteria in a risk matrix (exposure, frequency, probability and consequence), is not supported by the evidence. It is often after the event that we articulate some rational explanation for our choice or risk ranking, but in reality that is not why we chose to undertake that task or take that risk in the first place.
One example of subjective risk attribution, that I hadn’t heard but was totally intrigued by, is the genuine belief by South Koreans that fans left on overnight are very likely to kill you!
Nobody is saying that Koreans are dumb in their beliefs, but they behave as expected, and defend their beliefs, when knowledge presented and unquestioned throughout their life is challenged and said to be wrong.
Also, if you approach a Korean about this issue, their first instinct is to defend their culture to foreigners even though they may not agree with the belief themselves. But, even if you do convince a Korean that fan death is not true, it would be really hard for you to get them to actually overcome the deep subconscious fear and actually sleep in a sealed room with a fan on. They have been very well trained by the media, the government and their parents avoid the risk.
From Chapter 1 of the book (download a free copy here)
A good example of just how risk is aggravated, yet not connected to reality or scientific evidence, is illustrated in a study of the fear of fans in South Korea or what is known as ‘fan death’ myth.
It is a widely held belief in South Korea that a fan left on overnight in a closed room can kill you. This is why all fans in South Korea must be fitted with a timer
Many scientific tests have proven that the risks associated with electric fans are not real but, due to cognitive dissonance, the evidence is not believed. To make matters worse, the South Korean Consumer Protection Board (KCPB) has issued the following warning:
If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes [the] bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [an] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration [sic] and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.