Most of us have had those moments of when we discover something we like or have is all around us. Think of the last time you bought a car. As you consider your options and select a car, all of a sudden the chosen type of car seems to be everywhere. While our logical mind tells us that the cars existed before our purchase, the perceptual mind focuses on the prevalence of that type of automobile. Similarly, parents with newborns start to notice all of the young families around them.
As humans, sensitivity results in changes in how our mind filters our environment. We start to notice things that we did not notice before and we assume it is occurring more often. Put simply, we start to see things differently and assume something has changed. If we are interested in or have been negatively impacted by something, the change in filtering can be even greater. The phenomenon is known as observational selection bias.
Frederick Navarro in his book, Cognitive and Behavioral Patterns of Perception and Action sums the behavior up well:
“I have an interest in astronomy and advances in space exploration technologies. I am naturally drawn to things that focus on these topics. If I hear something in my surroundings about this subject my ears perk up. My attention gets drawn. This response represents my state of perceptual vigilance on the topic of astronomy. In contrast, I have little interest in automobile style. When I am driving, all the cars I see might as well be gray and all the same shape because I just don’t pay any attention to them (except as things to be navigated around). In this case my perceptual response is to tune out differences that are irrelevant to me. This response represents perceptual defense. My mind filters out issues of low priority.”
In the workplace, this natural bias presents a number of challenges that we need to be aware of and counter:
- We assume that everyone is the same, wants the same things, and will do the same things.
- We focus only on those things that interest us now.
- We fail to recognize issues in time due to blindness to them.
- We focus on the “flavor” of the moment.
The best cure to each of these is twofold: take a second look and test the logic.