In the realm of human psychology, the inclination to avoid negative situations and risks is something many individuals grapple with. The Ostrich Effect sheds light on the reasons behind this aversion to facing unpleasant truths.
Acknowledging negative information is an inevitable part of life, yet not everyone is always mentally prepared to do so. There are days when one may choose to avoid checking a message from their boss because they fear potential criticism. On another occasion, someone might procrastinate scheduling a meeting with a seemingly difficult client. Or perhaps, they’ve felt the jitters when expressing their feelings to someone, fearing rejection.
Then comes the time when the holidays roll around, bringing with them a myriad of daunting questions from relatives. Questions about how much money to spend on gifts, red envelopes for the children, and looming deadlines to meet before the festivities begin. Each mention of the holidays triggers a desire to evade and divert the conversation.
This phenomenon is known as the Ostrich Effect.
What is the Ostrich Effect?
The Ostrich Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals choose to avoid rather than confront negative information. The term “Ostrich Effect” draws inspiration from the old belief that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to hide from danger.
The origin and initial usage of the Ostrich Effect stem from the field of behavioral economics. In 2006, Israeli economists Dan Galai and Orly Sade coined the term “Ostrich Effect” to describe how investors tend to avoid potential risks by pretending they don’t exist.
Why Do We Experience the Ostrich Effect?
Sensitivity to Loss
Loss is often accompanied by sadness and requires a significant amount of effort to overcome. Consequently, people are prone to experiencing loss aversion, where they perceive the pain of loss to be twice as intense as the joy of gain. This fixation on what is lost rather than what is gained leads to a narrow perspective.
An offshoot of this is “myopic loss aversion,” where individuals focus on short-term losses and fail to see long-term benefits. For instance, investors tend to shy away from riskier assets due to the fear of short-term losses, even though these investments may yield higher returns in the long run.
In life, we sometimes avoid our goals because we are preoccupied with the potential losses associated with achieving them. For example, after putting substantial effort into completing an essay, receiving feedback from a teacher can be daunting. The fear of the effort and time required for revisions may lead to procrastination and avoidance.
The Ostrich Effect is further exacerbated by the human desire for self-satisfaction, which can lead individuals to distort their self-perception to protect their ego.
For example, despite recognizing their limitations at work, people often struggle with receiving constructive criticism. They tend to magnify their successes and downplay the significance of their mistakes, a phenomenon known as self-enhancement bias. This psychological defense mechanism shields their self-esteem.
Resistance to Changing Beliefs
The Ostrich Effect is a branch of cognitive dissonance, where the conflict between beliefs and actual actions creates discomfort, forcing individuals to either change their beliefs or their actions to reduce the cognitive dissonance.
For instance, after investing a significant amount of time and money into a project, individuals may desperately want to believe it will succeed. Consequently, they resist heeding warnings or alternative viewpoints. If left unchecked, the Ostrich Effect can evolve into confirmation bias, reinforcing existing beliefs while rejecting conflicting opinions.
Strategies to Overcome the Ostrich Effect
Embrace Constructive Feedback
A crucial step in overcoming the Ostrich Effect is learning to appreciate and welcome constructive feedback. Instead of viewing criticism as a threat, consider it an opportunity for growth and improvement. Constructive feedback often provides valuable insights and alternative perspectives that can lead to better decisions and personal development.
Cultivate Emotional Resilience
Emotional resilience plays a pivotal role in facing uncomfortable truths head-on. Resilience empowers individuals to rebound from setbacks, tackle adversity with courage, and maintain emotional stability even when confronted with criticism or negative information. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and positive self-talk can enhance emotional resilience.
Seek Diverse Perspectives
To combat confirmation bias, actively seek diverse viewpoints and opinions. Engage in open and honest discussions with individuals who hold differing beliefs. Encouraging an environment where dissenting opinions are valued fosters a more comprehensive understanding of complex issues and helps individuals break free from the constraints of the Ostrich Effect.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
Cultivating a growth mindset can significantly mitigate the Ostrich Effect. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that their abilities and intelligence can develop through effort and learning. This perspective encourages a willingness to face challenges, learn from failures, and seize opportunities for personal growth.
Set Realistic Goals
Setting achievable, realistic goals can help individuals sidestep the fear of failure or loss. Breaking larger objectives into smaller, manageable steps reduces the perceived risks associated with pursuing ambitions. This approach fosters a balanced perspective, enabling individuals to focus on long-term goals without becoming overwhelmed by potential setbacks.
Self-compassion involves treating oneself with the same kindness and understanding that one would extend to a friend. When mistakes are made or criticism arises, it’s essential to avoid self-criticism and self-blame. Practicing self-compassion allows individuals to maintain a healthy self-image while acknowledging areas for improvement.
Learn from Role Models
Identifying and learning from role models who have successfully navigated the Ostrich Effect can be both inspiring and instructive. Studying the experiences of individuals who have confronted challenges, setbacks, and criticism head-on provides valuable insights and motivation. Their journeys offer guidance on how to overcome obstacles, making it easier to break free from the Ostrich Effect’s grip.
The Ostrich Effect is a common cognitive bias that can hinder personal growth and decision-making by causing individuals to avoid confronting negative information and challenges. However, with the right strategies and techniques, it is possible to overcome this bias and develop a more resilient and open-minded approach to life. By embracing constructive feedback, cultivating emotional resilience, seeking diverse perspectives, adopting a growth mindset, setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion, and learning from role models, individuals can break free from the Ostrich Effect and face uncomfortable truths with confidence and grace. In doing so, they can unlock their full potential and achieve greater personal and professional success.