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Familiarity and Habituation Bias: The Cognitive Bias

Familiarity breeds liking. People express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them.

The great Oracle Wiki says Familiarity and Habituation bias is a “rule of thumb” that people like you and I use when forming a judgement, decisions or beliefs…

Sounds all highbrow and impressive but leaves you scratching your head, wondering at the meaning, doesn’t it?

1/2. To make understanding easier, let’s begin with an example; You have been working in a corporate office for years. You are stagnating in the job. You know that you can find a better job with your experience coupled with qualifications, but you are accustomed to the people, the pace and the place, So you end up going day after day to the same old boring job.


2/2. You are worried about your future. You expect you sunny days to be eclipsed by constant rainy days. So you decide to invest in the biggest umbrella aka invest/save your money for the future. You are bombarded by advertisements exhorting you to invest in XYZ shares or take ‘ABC’ policy. Each of these ads promise you good returns but do you invest in them? NO! You take your money and go to the very bank in which your parents and their parents had invested!

Both these instances illustrate ‘Familiarity and Habituation Bias’. Familiarity Bias means doing what you have always been comfortable with, sometimes overlooking or neglecting the better options. We dig in our heels when there is a slightest whisper of change.

Impact of Familiarity and Habituation Bias

Familiarity Bias or heuristic is irrational, automatic and fast. We tend to make self destructive decisions despite being aware of the better option. We make choices that prolong the frustration and unhappiness. Familiarity is preferred as it implies safety.

Familiarity bias is one of the most powerful Cognitive bias. Stanford University psychological scientist Ab Litt think that a person under pressure or stress will automatically base his decision on what is known/familiar leading to a vicious cycle of poor decisions and erosion of confidence.

Overcoming the debilitating Familiarity and Habituation bias

You must have heard of ‘Carpe diem’ which means seize the moment, expanding on that, one would say seize the opportunity when it knocks on your door. Explore it after all, you only live once! (too corny but apt).

But remember to err on the side of caution. Abandoning familiarity bias doesn’t mean you go on a reckless decision making. Calculate the risks, make a quick feasibility study and then grab the change.

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