Omission bias is the tendency to favor an act of omission (inaction) over one of commission (action). It can occur due to a number of processes, including psychological inertia, the perception of transaction costs, and a tendency to judge harmful actions as worse, or less moral, than equally harmful omissions (inactions). It is controversial as to whether omission bias is a cognitive bias or is often rational. The bias is often showcased through the trolley problem and has also been described as an explanation for the endowment effect and status quo bias.
Examples and applications
Spranca, Minsk and Baron extended the omission bias to judgments of morality of choices. In one scenario, John, a tennis player, would be facing a tough opponent the next day in a decisive match. John knows his opponent is allergic to a food substance. Subjects were presented with two conditions: John recommends the food containing the allergen to hurt his opponent's performance, or the opponent himself orders the allergenic food, and John says nothing. A majority of people judged that John's action of recommending the allergenic food as being more immoral than John's inaction of not informing the opponent of the allergenic substance.
The effect has also held in real world athletic arenas: NBA statistics showcased referees called 50 percent fewer fouls in the final moments of close games.
An additional real-world example is when parents decide not to vaccinate their children because of the potential chance of death—even when the probability the vaccination will cause death is much less likely than death from the disease prevented.
- List of cognitive biases
- Psychological inertia
- Lying by omission
- Sin of omission
- Status quo bias
- Endowment effect
- Trolley problem
- "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" for contrast
- Ritov, Ilana; Baron, Jonathan (February 1992). "Status-quo and omission biases". Journal of Risk and Uncertainty. 5 (1). doi:10.1007/BF00208786. S2CID 143857417.
- Baron, Jonathan; Ritov, Ilana (September 1994). "Reference Points and Omission Bias". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 59 (3): 475–498. doi:10.1006/obhd.1994.1070.
- Gal, David (July 2006). "A Psychological Law of Inertia and the Illusion of Loss Aversion" (PDF). Judgment and Decision Making. 1: 23–32.
- Howard-Snyder, Frances (2011). "Doing vs. Allowing Harm". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Gal, David; Rucker, Derek D.; Shavitt, Sharon (July 2018). "The Loss of Loss Aversion: Will It Loom Larger Than Its Gain?". Journal of Consumer Psychology. 28 (3): 497–516. doi:10.1002/jcpy.1047. S2CID 148956334.
- Spranca, Mark; Minsk, Elisa; Baron, Jonathan (1991). "Omission and commission in judgment and choice". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 27 (1): 76–105. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.137.9435. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(91)90011-T.
- Moskowitz, Tobias; Wertheim, L. Jon (2011). Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. Crown Publishing Group. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-307-59181-4.
- Ritov, Ilana; Baron, Jonathan (October 1990). "Reluctance to vaccinate: Omission bias and ambiguity". Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 3 (4): 263–277. doi:10.1002/bdm.3960030404.
- Baron, Jonathan (2006). "Omission versus commission". Thinking and Deciding (4th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 514. ISBN 978-0-521-68043-1.
- Asch, David A.; Baron, Jonathan; Hershey, John C.; Kunreuther, Howard; Meszaros, Jacqueline; Ritov, Ilana; Spranca, Mark (2 July 2016). "Omission Bias and Pertussis Vaccination". Medical Decision Making. 14 (2): 118–123. doi:10.1177/0272989X9401400204. PMID 8028464. S2CID 24734424.