When faced with big choices, people often rely on the most easily accessible information as opposed to the most important.
The availability bias is a phenomenon in which people predict the frequency of an event, or the popularity of an idea, based on how easily an example can be brought to mind. This bias operates on the notion that “if you can think of it, it must be important.”
Things which are easier to imagine are usually more vivid in our minds, so they are more ‘available’.
For example – people rate the chance of death by homicide higher than the chance of death by stomach cancer, even though death by stomach cancer is five times higher than death by homicide.
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to be overly influenced by attention grabbing information, even when it’s not necessarily pertinent. It causes us to think that events that receive heavy media attention are more important than they really are.
Consider how the 24/7 news cycle may strengthen this bias. Because we remember recent experiences or reports, the news has a significant effect on our decisions. After a news feature about a mugging case, many women will be more nervous about going out alone at night. We have thus been primed by the news, increasing the accessibility of this information.
Availability biases can result in poor decision-making because they are based on single, potentially skewed, examples. Understanding how the brain works is important not only to craft campaigns that support the way people think, but also to avoid the biases in our own brains as we make decisions and pursue more objective thinking.