My Life As A Blog

Availability Bias

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I’ve always been amazed at our memory of weather.  My experience is that everyone (in the UK), regardless of age, grew up in a period of cold, snowy winters and long hot summers.  Occasionally, high winds or heavy rain make an appearance.  I figure that this happens because we the unusual stands out in our memories while the commonplace fades into the background.  Why does this matter?  It matters because there’s a phenomenon called availability bias that affects our decision making.  When asked whether murder or suicide are the cause of more deaths most people say murder, when in fact suicide is far more prevalent (according to a 1978 study called Judged Frequency of Lethal Events.)  Apparently, we judge the probability of events by the ease with which they are recalled.

What has this got to do with architecture?  Quite a bit I’d say.  It’s crucial for us to understand how decisions are made, and be able to see the flaws in decision making (especially our own.)  Because availability bias leads us to overestimate the likelihood of that which we recall easily, we are likely to spend more time, money and energy on stuff which, although it may have very nearly derailed our last project, is actually far less important than the stuff we’re ignoring.  The way to counter this bias is with data – anecdotal evidence will only serve to reinforce the bias.


Written by remark

June 26, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Architecture, General

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