The “Availability Bias”, sometimes called the “Availability Heuristic”, is a well-documented natural tendency for all of us to over-react to information that is most current or most easily available. This bias can cause individuals, businesses, and governments to make decisions that are effectively over-reacting to the facts or even responding to the wrong thing.

Following the terrible bombings in the Istanbul Airport, traffic to Turkey dropped by over 30%. As horrendous and fatal as those bombings were, the likelihood of being hurt or killed in such an incident is still shockingly small, and possibly even smaller immediately following one that has just happened given the heightened security and awareness. But the images of those bombings dominated the media and thus the idea that this activity was more common than it is seemed assured.

This is the Availability Bias in action.

Weeks after the United Airlines actions that resulted in a passenger being physically dragged off the plane, news reports of all kinds of disruptive airline incidents appeared everywhere. Fights on airplanes, in airports, seats taken from small children, affecting every airline large and small. But the reality is that incidents like this happen extremely rarely, with thousands of flights every day that experience nothing of the sort. Further, many such incidents, when they do happen, would not make national news because of their relatively small impact. Was it really a national story that Delta tried to re-assign a seat from a passenger who didn’t show up, forcing a parent to hold their child on their lap rather than have an empty seat for their car seat? It wouldn’t be, except that the United incident raised everyone’s awareness of airline incidents so these others made for more media fodder. Yet how many flights have you taken when nothing like this has happened? I have flown for 30 years, sometimes many thousands of miles per year, and have never seen something like this live. The media use the Availability Bias to their advantage for ratings all the time.

Does vaccinating a young child raise the risk of autism? Science does not support this, yet because certain celebrities with a national platform have pushed this view, tens (and maybe hundreds) of thousands of children are at risk for dangerous diseases and there is even the potential return of diseases that science had effectively wiped out. This is a dangerous example of the Availability Bias.

If you are aware of the Availability Bias and begin to look for it, you will be surprised how often it shows up in all kinds of situations. We can’t remove this natural tendency, but by being aware of it we can let our rational minds allow us to make better decisions in our personal and business lives.