Bias number 11 is known as the availability cascade. This is a social cognitive bias that explains the cycle of beliefs to which people subscribe, regardless of the legitimacy of the idea or the presence of facts.
This bias is particularly present in social circles in which people seek to gain social acceptance from others.
Here’s how it works. A complex situation is reduced to a simplistic, straightforward explanation. This explanation, seemingly both plausible and insightful, gains traction amongst the chattering classes and rapidly proliferates in discussions amongst people who want to be recognised and accepted as someone of intellectual substance.
However, the need for social acceptance by appearing sophisticated outweighs the need for digging deeper to understand the truth of the situation, compromising the person’s critical thinking faculties as a result.
This type of bias is perpetuated wherever you find people discussing topics of social importance. The conversations on social media, fuelled by “influencers” who share their wisdom in media sources that have been given an official stamp of approval, offer the perfect environment for a bias such as the availability cascade to perpetuate itself.
In the book The Happiness Project, Jonathan Haidt shows just how this bias (and many others) grip and distort the human capacity to reason. He describes two systems of human reasoning. System One — the elephant — governs the unconscious thought processes while System Two — the rider — governs the conscious processes. Human beings like to fool themselves into believing that their rider is the one in charge, when actually, the elephant is in the driving seat.
It is the elephant’s desire to remain a significant part of the herd that instigates its latching onto an apparent insight in order to demonstrate its value to the other herd members. The idea of openly challenging a notion conjures up images of banishment, leading to isolation and vulnerability
For the elephant, and for the human being caught in the wave of a herd mentality, ridicule and isolation signals impending doom and a greater risk of death. So, time and time again, people compromise their critical thinking faculties, the source of their power to reason and choose, and opt for the safe route by jumping on the latest bandwagon, supporting the security of their position in the herd.
Anyone who dares to stick his or her head above the parapet to offer an opposing view gets shot down by the herd. This happens despite facts presented that offer another way of seeing a situation. And it’s a shame that humans have yet to master these pernicious biases, despite everything we know about our neurology.
You might be the type who really wants recognition from your peers. The more likes or shares you generate on a social media post, the better you feel. You want to keep generating those feelings, so you keep sharing biased information because it elevates your position of authority in the herd.
You might also hear a little voice that tells you you're not a biased person, that in fact your intellect prevents you from being caught out by a bias. If you're human, you almost certainly are. There's a very important reason why it's important for you to understand biases:
YOU ARE AT THE EFFECT OF THEM!
Here’s my question to you. When did you stop being a human being and start being an elephant, or chimp or dog or horse, for that matter? When did you decide that standing for truth and fact was a survival risk? When did you decide to compromise your distinctly human capability to examine a situation and listen to input from all sides, not just one?
In short, why did you give up your ability to be human, forging new paths and creating new opportunities, for the sake of your mammalian need for belonging?
Real greatness, real brilliance and real innovation comes at a cost — comfort. While it is comfortable to tread the social line of acceptability, it doesn’t lead to anything other than a continuation of the status quo.
That’s fine if it’s your goal to maintain the status quo of the world in which we currently live. You’ll continue to get what you’ve always got. There is safety in predictability, that’s for sure.
Is safety and predictability what you seek? Or, would you like to venture beyond the boundaries of the availability cascade bias and discover the world beyond the castle walls? Would you like to leave the herd mentality behind and forge your own life?
Would you like to discover the true substance of your being? Then I recommend that you diverge from paths tread by generations of elephants and discover who you are beyond the creature comforts of familiarity.
It’s up to you to choose which way you go. What I’m offering you is the opportunity to make choices from a place of greater knowledge of yourself and how your unconscious neurology — your elephant — drives your choices. You have to accept the presence and the impact of your elephant neurology before you can bring its power into balance with your human neurology.
You could start by investigating an availability cascade bias to which you know you’ve succumbed. Venture beyond “acceptable” information sources and into uncharted territory. Manage emotional reactions by recognising them as an irrational fear of being separated from the herd so you can investigate discoveries with your critical thinking function intact.
Finally, enjoy the process of stepping out of the elephant mind and into the fullness of the human mind. Let that prospect take hold of your neurology, and run with it. This is where the path to true brilliance begins.