Mental Models: Familiarity Bias



How might this apply to great teams and cultures?

This is familiar to almost everyone who has ever argued technology, politics or religion. We tend to accept only new information that supports our old ideas. This is just as likely -- and even more dangerous -- in the realm of analytics, where outcomes can influence decisions at the highest levels. The entire point of analytics as a strategic tool is to push beyond old ideas into more effective choices and policy: why poison the waters?

How we react to other people’s behavior would depend on the type of attributions we make, which depend on what data we collect and our relationship to that data. For instance, if we are predisposed to thinking a particular opportunity will not work in our organization, someone looking to work on that opportunity will not change our minds. Or, when faced with poor performance, such as missing a deadline, we are more likely to punish the person if an internal attribution is made (such as “the person being unreliable”). In the same situation, if we make an external attribution (such as “the timeline was unreasonable”), instead of punishing the person we might extend the deadline or assign more help to the person. If we feel that someone’s failure is due to external causes, we may feel empathy toward the person and even offer help (LePine & Van Dyne, 2001). On the other hand, if someone succeeds and we make an internal attribution (he worked hard), we are more likely to reward the person, whereas an external attribution (the project was easy) is less likely to yield rewards for the person in question. Therefore, understanding attributions is important to predicting subsequent behavior.

How might this apply to your business?

If introducing a radically new project, use characteristics of something already familiar to people. For example, use visual aspects similar to other popular services or the likeness of a familiar physical environment. You can establish formal partnerships with already familiar brands to help make your new idea seem safer.


What sense do you make of being on both sides of this issue? How will you mitigate that going forward?

See Also

Framing, Priming, Conceptual Metaphor, Status Quo Bias, Affect Heuristic


In the whirl of our day-to-day interactions, it’s all too easy to forget the nuances that distinguish great teams, great cultures, and great products/services.

Mental Model Flash Cards bring together insights from psychology into an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to your teams as well as the design of your products and services.