Three months ago, I set a New Year goal to write a blogpost every Sunday for consistency so that you, my readers, know what to expect. This goal proved to be every bit as challenging as I thought it would be. There are Sundays where I have 20 things I want to share, but there are other days where I just really need to push through, sit down and write. Of course, I enjoy every bit about sharing my Psych knowledge and Chicago/HK life with y’all. However, this week has been particularly tough as I spent the last few days hurriedly getting my life back together after landing in Chi-town on Monday.
On that note, I want to talk about Availability Bias, after surviving a 16-hour plane ride half way around the globe.
People use different heuristics (aka rules of thumb) to get through their daily lives. That’s because there are WAY to many stimulus in the environment for us to handle. If we respond to every single stimuli that comes our way, we will be over-whelmed. To make things easier, our brain filters out less important information and instead pays attention to the important stuff. However, sometimes our brain is not as smart as we think it is. After all, we’re only human, and we make mistakes that are irrational and defies statistics/probabilities.
Availability Bias is when we over-estimate the likelihood of an event happening based on how easy it is to bring something to mind. With the recent tragedies surrounding MH370, MH17, and AirAsia QZ8501, news channels are repeatedly talking about plane crashes, the missing black box, and the healing families. As a result, plane crashes are top of mind. It also means that I am more likely to think that my plane will crash on the way to Chicago because I keep thinking about all the recent flight tragedies. During my 16 hour flight, any tiny turbulence or turning on of the seatbelt sign made my heart jump – oh no, are we going down?!
If we look at statistics though, the number of crashes per year is actually at its lowest in over 80 years at 111 cases, keeping in mind the huge increase in flight frequencies as well. In fact, you’re much more likely to get into a car accident than an aviation accident. However, you don’t hear about all the car crashes on CNN or NY Times very often and therefore, you think that it happens less frequently.
Knowing about the Availability Bias can help you overcome it. The first step will be to identify those situations where the probability is skewed because of recent events that are affecting your emotions. Take a moment to stop and think about some decisions – are you over-relying on emotions caused by recent events/people around you/stories you’ve just heard?