Why The “Survivorship Bias” Is Essential For Our Way Of Thinking

Robin
2 min readNov 30, 2022

The survivorship bias refers to a cognitive bias, that enhances a subliminal way of thinking about success, failure and everything in between.

Here’s why it’s important to know how it influences our thinking:

According to the survivorship bias, probabilities of success are systematically overestimated because successful individuals or states are more visible than unsuccessful ones.

The term originates from the work of U.S. Navy engineers during World War II who were investigating where to improve aircraft armor while minimizing weight gain and thus increasing pilot survival rates.

To this end, a method was to be developed to calculate which hits were more likely to cause the aircraft to crash and which would allow it to return.

The mathematician Abraham Wald, who was commissioned with this task, encountered the problem that information about bullet hits was missing after crashes, and only the returned aircraft could be examined directly.

To avoid survivorship bias, he developed indirect survey methods.

The aircrafts were then reinforced in areas that did not have bullet holes since bullet holes in these areas were believed to have caused the aircraft to crash.

Seems pretty logical, now that I think about it.

Photo by Rodrigo Rodriguez on Unsplash

Other Examples Include:

In customer satisfaction surveys, individuals who still have a positive attitude toward the company are much more likely to respond than those who have a negative opinion.

Sometimes this misses the goal of identifying and improving the problematic aspects of the customer relationship.

This is known as silence bias in surveys.

The fact that high-quality or aesthetically pleasing buildings remain in use longer and are demolished less often leads to the “conclusion” that apparently better architectural achievements were made in earlier eras.

The fact that the houses of wealthy citizens were constructed of more durable materials creates the impression that fundamentally more solid construction took place in earlier eras…

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Robin

Just sharing ideas and knowledge to manifest in a rapidly-changing world.