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Availability Bias: America Is Already Great (Again… Or Still)

Fri, Jul 22, 2016 @ 4:41 PM Add Comment

By John Sisson (President)

We’ve all heard the news, and most of it’s bad. There’s a shooting by civilians or police, a mass killing, a terrorist attack, racial tension and more.

Then there are recriminations from all sides, calls for various measures, some draconian, some just about calm. Is it an everyday occurrence? If not, it seems like it is.

This got me thinking about my old friend, the Availability Bias.

The Availability Bias holds that our decision making process is highly influenced by information and events that are more recent, that were observed personally, and were more memorable.

This is because memorable events tend to be more magnified and are likely to cause an emotional reaction. So, what we can call to mind — or what’s easily “available” to us — influences, for example, how likely we think an event is to happen.

Boston Common In July 2016

So, there I am on the Boston Common this weekend, listening to free music among a crowded sea of people. If you don’t know the Common, it’s a park in the heart of Boston with a pond and monuments, and on this past weekend, stages set up for music of all kinds.

And that’s exactly what there were in people too, all kinds.

We sat on the lawn next to black, white, Hispanic and Asian people. We danced near the stage with people who were gay and straight, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and I’m sure other religious persuasion.

We walked around the park among rich and poor, educated and not, large and small, even balanced and maybe just a little unbalanced. And more than likely Republican and Democrat (although, of course, that I’m only speculating about).

A veritable mélange of all different “types” of people. And although there were police present, it didn’t seem to be an overwhelming presence.

So, the thought crossed my mind that something terrible would happen and that caution was necessary. Fortunately, that manifestation of availability bias was short lived.

Boston Common In July 2016

I talked to people on the Common. We didn’t talk about strife. We talked about life. And you know what? Everyone was nice. Yes, it was a beautiful day and the music was great, but here in this little microcosm, we had people of all stripes enjoying themselves together.

Is this not the norm? Is this not really what makes this country great? Are we not already great?

I know I felt perfectly safe and open to the world being filled with people different from me and that we can, in fact, all get along. I believe everyone saw what I saw, felt what I felt. I guess I hope they did.

Some of the musicians reminded us that peace and harmony are the way to go, but I don’t honestly think the crowd needed the reminder, since they were living it.

It’s worth explaining for the record that I’m in the middle with both conservative and liberal views, sometimes with conflict about what’s “correct”. I would never deny that there are problems in our country.

That said, there’s proof every day of the fact that we have the keys already in place to be as great as we can be. I wish there were more illustration in everyone’s lives, like there was this past weekend for me. Our availability bias in this case can certainly use a rest.

John Sisson
Interested in learning more about the Availability Bias or other behavioral science principles that influence our actions?

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Availability Bias behavioral science Boston Common John Sisson
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