18 Jul WHY WATCHING AND WAITING IS TORTURE. Action Bias
The action bias is accentuated when a situation is new or unclear.
The action bias exists even in the most educated circles. If a patient’s illness
cannot yet be diagnosed with certainty, and doctors must choose between intervening (i.e. prescribing something) or waiting and seeing, they are prone to taking action.
So what accounts for this tendency? In our old hunter-gatherer environment (which suited us quite well), action trumped reﬂection. Lightning-fast reactions were essential to survival; deliberation could be fatal. When our ancestors saw a silhouette appear at the edge of the forest – something that looked a lot like a sabre-tooth tiger – they did not take a pew to muse over what it might be. They hit the road – and fast. We are the descendants of these quick responders. Back then, it was better to run away once too often. However, our world today is different; it rewards reflection, even though our instincts may suggest otherwise.Although we now value contemplation more highly, outright inaction remains a cardinal sin.
You get no honour, no medal, no statue with your name on it if you make exactly the right decision by waiting – for the good of the company, the state, even humanity. On the other hand, if you demonstrate decisiveness and quick judgement, and the situation improves (though perhaps coincidentally), it’s quite possible your boss, or even the mayor, will shake your hand. Society at large still prefers rash action to a sensible wait-and-see strategy.
In conclusion: in new or shaky circumstances, we feel compelled to do something, anything. Afterward we feel better, even if we have made things worse by acting too quickly or too often. So, though it might not merit a parade in your honour, if a situation is unclear, hold back until you can assess your options. ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,’ wrote Blaise Pascal. At home, in his study.
The Art of Thinking Clearly