Does Availability Bias Have You Jumping to the Wrong Conclusions?
Think quickly and answer this question: How tall is the tallest redwood tree? 1,000 feet, 1,500 feet or 2,500 feet?
Got your pick? Great.
You’re incorrect! The tallest redwood tree is actually 379.9 feet tall. You might be thinking, “Hey, that’s not fair! That wasn’t even an option!” And you would be totally correct. This situation is what those of us who specialize in the world of neuroscience call availability bias.
Availability bias occurs when your brain creates a mental shortcut that places significance on immediate examples. The options that were given — 1,000, 1,500 and 2,500 feet — were credible to you because they were available when you needed an answer.
Now that you know about this bias, the good news is that you can begin to train your brain to account for it. Next time you are asked a question, try to step away from the immediate answers that come to mind. Is there another, better option from those offered that you didn’t consider?
Busting availability bias at work
Availability bias applies to more than just redwood trees. In the workplace, it impacts how we make decisions and judge our coworkers. As workloads mount and our time is increasingly stretched thin, our brain looks for ways to make quick decisions. Sometimes we base our judgments on the immediate information available to us.
For example, the new guy Joe is in a meeting with you and delivers a fantastic presentation to the team. A few minutes after the meeting, someone asks about Joe’s work at the company, and you respond that he is a great worker. At the other end of the spectrum, the other new guy Sam delivers a terrific presentation including handouts that have a few typos. Right after the meeting, someone asks you about Sam, and you’re not so sure about the quality of Sam’s work.
In each scenario, your interactions with Joe and Sam are an incomplete picture of their abilities. But in an effort to conserve energy, your brain makes conclusions based on the available information that influences the way you perceive your coworkers.
It’s the same reason why you look into insurance policies after natural disasters, and why warm weather has you thinking about global warming. Recent, easily recalled information skews our perceptions.
So, pause and analyze your short cuts. By becoming more aware of the brain’s natural tendency to use available information, you will raise the probability of making decisions, evaluations and predictions with more accuracy.
Be less certain and be more curious.