Omission Bias: 5 Examples & How It Affects Your Life

Omission Bias

The omission bias, like other cognitive biases, is a judge of harmful actions that influence our decisions. Cognitive biases emerge when we process information incorrectly due to issues with attention, memory, attribution, and other mistakes.

What Is the Omission Bias?

What Is the Omission Bias

Omission bias arises from our tendency to see the harmful outcomes of taking action (commission) as being worse than the negative consequences of not taking action (omission). This is assumed to happen because damaging acts are more visible than omissions, even if it has the same outcome.

The omission bias is a cognitive bias, the tendency to judge overt, destructive behaviors more harshly than harmful omissions. While the difference in the two instances may seem small, an action that directly leads to dire consequences (such as shoving someone into traffic) appears more vengeful than failing to act (omission) to prevent someone from going into traffic and therefore saving their life.

According to the data, the omission bias is mostly due to direct and indirect causation differences. Others will evaluate us severely if we cause harm directly rather than indirectly since we are likely not the only thing that may possibly avoid or decrease the harm.

The omission bias occurs for various reasons, and the justifications for one situation seeming less malignant than another are many. Still, when the rationale is analyzed, it’s simple to see how this way of thinking is a cognitive bias.

5 Omission Bias Examples That Negatively Impact Your Life

5 Omission Bias Examples That Negatively Impact Your Life

Omission bias affects us big time; here are some examples:

1. Staying Silent In The Workplace

Continuing on from our previous point about employees choosing inaction over action when it comes to possibly having a beneficial influence on their company, this sort of corporate atmosphere is defined by an omission bias belief. 

Employees compare the benefits of taking action vs. not taking action and arrive at the same conclusion: nothing will change. So, although there is a chance to make moral judgments, doing so would be costly.

2. Witnessing Crime

The previous example demonstrated how the omission bias might adversely systematically affect our life. However, this bias can also be primarily a moral issue. Assume you and a friend are standing in line at the grocery store when an elderly woman drops a $20 cash on the ground.

In the case of A, you push your buddy and gesture for the money, implying that he takes it himself. Of course, you decide not to inform the woman about the theft. In scenario B, you stoop down and quietly slide the $20 cash into your own pocket.

Which is worst?

In the case of A, you had no actual contact with the cash and just brought it to your buddy’s attention, implying that you were an indirect cause of the crime. However, in Situation B, you physically stole the money. Both occurrences resulted in money being stolen from an older woman.

When the omission bias is taken into account, we are less guilty in Situation A than in Situation B since actively contributing to the theft is considered worse than our alternative passive contribution.

3. Vaccinations

The topic of vaccinating children seems to be included in several cognitive biases and logical fallacies, including the omission bias. The risk of injury or side effects from the vaccination is the basis of most parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children.

However, research shows that the risk of leaving our children vulnerable to catching a preventable illness outweighs the risks of immunizations.

Some of us are hesitant to vaccinate our children because of the recognized danger of negative side effects while acknowledging the potential that our child may die from the illness that the immunization intends to prevent.

Medical decision-making is really important when it comes to health. Parents feel better about themselves when they do not directly cause their child’s death, but children may die in any case.

Parents frequently fail to consider that failing to have their child vaccinated might also end up harming the child. People, however, underestimate the possible negative implications of their actions owing to the omission bias. Refusing immunizations may result in bigger damages that impact many individuals.

4. Police Brutality

Consider the case of George Floyd, in which a man was murdered by a police officer. Through his lack of moral agency, the officer actively caused Floyd’s death by kneeling on his neck and causing outrage around the country.

But what about the cops who did not act in this horrible crime? Are they not equally responsible for Floyd’s death due to their inaction?

The law exhibits an omission bias by not adopting a law requiring individuals to act to save a life when possible. Still, carelessness is punished when someone unsuccessfully seeks to save a life.

5. In Court

Consider the following two witness testimonies: one witness missed certain critical details while telling the court what they knew about the case they were testifying about, and another witness lied about their case. 

Both testimonies resulted in the prison of the individual being prosecuted in their respective cases, even though neither were guilty.

Which witness made the more dangerous decision? The one who lied to get someone jailed, or the one who remained silent and let the jury make their own wrong decision?

Many people consider lying to the court more immoral than hiding relevant information. However, both scenarios resulted in the same outcome.

How To Avoid Omission Bias?

How To Avoid Omission Bias

We might consider how the omission bias influences our perceptions and behaviors. We may remind ourselves to think about the repercussions of our actions. We may also learn to control our omission bias by changing how we frame things.

Final Thoughts

We should keep an eye on our choices. It is simple to identify action but more difficult to detect inaction. We should keep an eye on our behaviors and choices, especially in situations where we maintain the status quo. We should be proactive in whatever we do and take responsibility to live a more purposeful life.