Omission Bias

Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt:
Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt: A large scale balancing between two contrasting options. On one side, a character is actively pushing a huge lever, on the other side, another character is passive, simply observing. The lever represents the action, and the weights on the scale represent the outcomes, identical on both sides. The background of the scene is a simple, minimalist 2D landscape

The Omission Bias is a psychological phenomenon where we prefer inaction over action, even if the outcomes are the same. A classic example of this bias is the hypothetical scenario of a medication that can cure 80% of terminally ill patients but also carries a 20% risk of death. Despite the overwhelming potential for success, the bias inclines us to prohibit such a medication from reaching the market, due to the risk associated with taking an action1.

Omission Bias can have significant implications when it comes to the creation and development of digital software products.

  1. Feature Development: The bias can deter software developers from implementing new features, especially when the introduction of these features carries a risk of disrupting existing functionalities. Despite the potential benefits, the fear of negative consequences can lead to omission. For example, a developer might hesitate to add a new sorting feature to a database, fearing it could negatively impact the existing search functionality.
  2. Software Updates: Software updates often carry the risk of introducing new bugs while fixing old ones. Because of the Omission Bias, users might prefer to stick with a version of the software they know, despite it having known issues, rather than update to a new version that could potentially introduce unknown problems.
  3. Risk Management: In cybersecurity, the Omission Bias can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can deter organizations from taking proactive measures to enhance their security infrastructure, fearing the potential disruptions to the existing system. On the other hand, this bias can also prevent hasty decisions that might inadvertently expose the system to new vulnerabilities.

Understanding and acknowledging the Omission Bias is crucial for the development of digital software products. By being aware of this bias, software developers and managers can make more informed decisions that balance the risks and benefits of action versus inaction, ultimately leading to more robust and user-friendly products.