Dungeons & Dragons and Burgers: ‘Really Bad Outcomes’ When We Don’t Grasp Fractions
In the 1980s there was a widespread conspiracy theory that young people who played the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons were prone to murder and suicide.
The two cases came at a time when the United States was in the throes of “Satanic Panic.” Halloween candy was being tampered with. The media fanned tales of cult activities and child abuse. The Dungeons & Dragons murder/suicide theory was even featured in a 1985 segment on the television news magazine “60 Minutes.”
There was just one problem. The theory, so widely believed, was wrong.
All it would have taken to debunk the idea was to look at the numbers. But as James Zimring says in his new book, “Partial Truths: How Fractions Distort Our Thinking,” humans generally are not great at understanding the likelihood of things.
“One of the reasons is we are storytelling creatures who predominantly use anecdotal evidence, and we are not prone to expect or seek out broad statistical data that gives the full picture of a circumstance,” said Zimring, the University of Virginia’s Thomas W. Tillack Professor of Pathology. “Misunderstanding probability has really bad outcomes.”