Automaticity bias:
when the mind is bypassed

Reflexes, habits and heuristics:

when the autopilot overrides the brain

Those automatic / reflexive actions are usually useful
but in some cases they become biased and can be harmful.

We better know when to unplug the autopilot
and make the conscious mind take the wheel.

When the robot in us does our chores
...or breaks some china
.


Many of our usual behaviors seems to be done on "autopilot".
Our conscious
brainmind (conscious cognition and emotion) plays
no  part or a very limited part in them, as if decisions use a shortcut.

Usually those unconscious actions perform mundane chores, OK.
But what about when more decisive ones are also taken over by a
mental automaton of our own making ?
Something physical takes place in the brain here.
Neurosciences show that once some connections between
neurons thanks to neurotransmitters and electric waves,
took place frequently enough, they become like "wired",
quite hard to redirect.

Useful or biased droid?

Most of those automatic actions are useful, even necessary.
=> For example without the breathing automaticity ... we would
          stop breathing. Just 2 minutes left to say goodbye ;-)

=> Also experience and education bring knowledge that becomes
          automatically available when needed. Professionals need not
          reinvent the wheel any time they have to perform their art.
          Of course, sometimes we have also to delearn obsolete
          practices and paradigms
=> Our neurons work even when we sleep and help to pave the
          way for smart ideas, decisions and moves.
          "Sleep over it" can be useful.
        Well, here we can talk
about clock delayed automatisms,
        even it is a near oxymoron. But anyway the unconscious
        factor also plays a part in that
phenomenon.
But those moves can also become biased, unadapted or counterproductive.
We are then affected by a form of negative / danger risky
behavioral bias
that can be labeled
inappropriate automatism or automaticity bias 

Types and forms

Automaticity biases, as reflexive and quasi-physical behavior distortions,
can be sorted into several types and forms.

Main types of automatic behaviors 
that might be biased
  • Reflex
A reflex is an unconscious reaction reaction to a "stimulus",
either physical or emotional (conversely, some emotional
impulses which are practically physical might also be classified
as reflexes).

We behave here like a dog that sees a bone, salivates and
rushes to grab it without asking itself metaphysical questions.


That immediate response can be:

* either instinctive
* or learnt
* or even ...suggested (
bait / deception)

And also

* either well adapted to the stimulus / situation,
*
or rather unrelated to it

The unrelated case can be caused by a Pavlovian reflex that
was learnt in different,  even unrelated, circumstances.

You know when the dog we mentioned above learned to
salivate while hearing a whistle that was associated at the
origin to the presence of a juicy bone.

  • Intuition / instinct
Intuition and sudden imagination bulb (illumination) might
bring highly adaptive solutions... if some sorting is done between
those "brilliant" inspirations before applying them to decisions.

This sorting is not possible only when facing a crucial emergency,
in which an immediate response is needed. It is good then to have
been prepared before the event arises.
  • habit Habit
Habit refers to an unconscious or slightly conscious, useful or harmful,
regular
practice or beliefs which has been ingrained for a long
time.

A strong motivation is needed when it becomes necessary to change
an habit.
A lot of effort and attention is involved then.
  • Compulsion, addiction
A compulsion is a sudden and powerful reaction or drive that
cannot be resisted, with often damaging results.

An addiction is an habit that became so overwhelming that
a person does not find how to resist it, with often disastrous effects
on his / her whole behavior.
An heuristic is a simplified mental model / schema used
routinely
, but rather consciously (thus not fully automatic), to
understand a situation and to react accordingly.
An usual cooking recipe.

Some special forms and effects

Side dishes
Those autopilot biases might also cause specific forms of behaviors:

=>
For person individuals:
        * Inertias, status quo bias,
        * Or on the contrary impetuous actions, hyperactivity.

=>
For group human groups / societies:
        Unquestioned obedience to rules, conventions and dogmas, rites,
        taboos...

More general consequences

An automatic / reflexive behavior might save time and efforts as an
alternative to a conscious
decision decision making process.
And time and energy are important resources not to be wasted.
Except that such "savings" can have sometimes a high hidden cost.
  • In some cases those automatic processes
* help to make timely decisions in situations that need  
    a fast response
.
* might also foster an appropriate self-discipline
    (guidelines, good habits...) .
  • But in other cases they make the person act as a puppet
This happens in situations in which such reactions do
not / should not apply
(or no more apply) according to

rational standards.
This results in poor, unadapted, or even counterproductive
and destructive moves.

Source and further readings

From the Behavioral finance glossary

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M.a.j. / updated : 31 July 2015
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