Sunday, May 7, 2023

Omission Bias

 “The only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything.”

-Theodore Roosevelt





The human mind is a complex computer which swiftly processes tons of data in a matter of moments. 


But it often does so by using shortcuts. 


These shortcuts are known as cognitive bias.


Cognitive bias can be explained as a systematic thought process caused by the tendency of the human brain to simplify information processing through a filter of personal experience and preferences.


In other words, to work quicker, our mind tends to process information based upon 

  1. Our desires

  2. Our experiences


In order to improve cognitive functioning, it is important to recognize how our minds, and our children’s minds, work, as it is nearly impossible to fix anything without first recognizing the problem.


In previous articles, I’ve written about outcome bias (where we put too much emphasis on previous results) and confirmation bias (how we use our beliefs and previous experiences to fill in the gaps). For the purpose of this article, I’d like to discuss omission bias.


Case 1: Matilda is severely allergic to peanuts. I know this and I add peanuts to Matilda’s salad without her knowing. Matilda dies as a result.


Case 2: Matilda is severely allergic to peanuts. She goes to the buffet and unknowingly takes a salad which contains peanuts. I notice this and decide not to inform her. She eats the salad and dies.


Omission bias states that people perceive inaction (case 2) as less harmful than action (case 1).


Despite the fact that in both scenarios your behavior directly led to Matilda’s death.


Case 3: Gregg is on trial. Tim gives false testimony implicating Gregg. Gregg is found guilty.


Case 4: Gregg is on trial. Tim is a witness and can give testimony exonerating Gregg. Tim doesn't come forward and Gregg is convicted.


Once again, people will often state that the 3rd case is worse, yet both cases have the same result.


Omission bias stems from a basic view that one should avoid any direct cause of harm. Yet it ignores the consequences of passivity.


Standing by idly and “watching” something bad happen isn’t “better” than actively causing the bad thing.


And yet, on an individual level and even a communal level, we do just that. 


Omission bias might also be one of the many reasons why it is difficult for victims to report sexual abuse.


They view their testimony as direct harm (Keep in mind, victims often have conflicted feelings towards their abusers).


The lack of testimony is viewed as indirect harm (e.g. future victims).


How do we overcome omission bias?

For starters, we need to stop minimizing the results of inaction.


Damage caused via action and damage caused by inaction can be equally harmful.


The more we justify inaction over action, the more we enable omission bias to continue and flourish in our own brains, as well as within society as a whole.


As Mark Twain said: “The truth hurts, but silence kills”.




Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.



To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com


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Sunday, March 12, 2023

Ashtrays for Kids

“Asking questions is one of the best ways to grow as a human being.”

-Michael Hyatt


Years ago, a company named Enron started an advertising campaign titled: “Ask Why”.


This campaign was designed to show the viewer that people were able to make major discoveries, simply by asking why.


Children often ask “why” questions. They do this because they are, by definition, curious about the world. They are seeking to gain knowledge and they are inquiring as to whether there is a deeper meaning behind what it is that they are asking about. 


In short, by not asking, one will gain no knowledge, however, by asking why and seeking to understand, one opens up the possibility to change their entire way of thinking.


One of the most recent “why” questions that I have heard is the following: “If smoking is forbidden on airplanes, why are there ashtrays inside the airplane bathrooms?”


I researched this and the answer that I found was truly enlightening. 


Airlines are still required by the FAA to have ashtrays in their bathrooms, despite the fact that the FAA bans smoking on all flights. 


Let me repeat that last statement. The same FAA that says one cannot smoke on a plane is the same FAA which requires that all airplane lavatories have an ashtray.


Why do they do this?


Because they are aware that there will be rulebreakers. They don’t want a small problem (smoking) to become a bigger problem (fire due to a lit cigarette).


So despite all the announcements about the prohibition against smoking. Despite the huge fines that a smoker will be penalized for smoking in flight. Despite all the other potential penalties that the smoker faces, the FAA said “Make sure there is an ashtray. We don’t want a small issue becoming an in-flight fire”.


This message is a very important message for parents. 


We teach our children right and wrong. 

We preach that they do what is right.

We threaten and punish, to prevent them from doing what is wrong.


But do we have an ashtray?


Do we have something inbuilt so that when our child does something wrong, it doesn’t become something worse (e.g. in their attempt in not getting caught)?


Do we recognize the fact that children will make mistakes, and we need to be there to assist them, even after a mistake?


Will your child call you for help when they’re drunk, or will the fear of being punished for being drunk cause them to avoid reaching out to you?


One specific area where we need “ashtrays” is when it comes to child sex abuse prevention. Parents speak with their children about “good touch-bad touch” and never “letting” anyone touch private parts, and other important tips.


But what happens when the child isn’t able to withstand the pressure and cunningness of an abuser? 


Is there an “ashtray” for the child?


Does the child know that they can come to their parents? Or do they believe that they will be in trouble for not listening to the parents original instructions, the instructions that said to “say no” and “not let it happen”?


As much as I despise both Enron and smoking, there are major life lessons to be learned from both.


  1. Don’t be afraid to ask why. It might enable you to open your mind and start seeing the world in a way that you haven’t seen it until now.


  1. Don’t assume that rules will be followed. Make sure that you have contingencies in place to assist when the rules/advice is ignored.



Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.


To speak with Yisroel about presenting at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com


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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Trauma: Learning from China Airlines Flight 611

 “Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.”

 – Peter Levine


In May of 2002, a China Airlines flight mysteriously crashed 20 minutes after takeoff. The investigation baffled investigators. All seemed right with this flight, yet it suddenly disappeared from radar and crashed. No evidence of a bomb or bomb residue was found. 


Then investigators made a startling discovery. Twenty two years earlier, this same plane had suffered damage during a landing. This damage wasn’t properly fixed. 

An insufficient plate was used to cover the damaged part. This meant the damage was getting increasingly worse with every flight, yet it couldn’t be seen because of the repair plate that was placed over it.


Whilst the repair plate allowed the plane to function normally, it didn’t correct the damage. It didn’t even address the damage. It only enabled the plane to continue despite the damage.


All was seemingly good until one day in 2002, when the damage became too much for the covering plate, and the plane broke apart in mid-air.


The 1980 tail strike was the initial trauma. 

The plate was an insufficient attempt at dealing with the trauma.

Despite the appearance that all was good, the trauma got worse and worse, yet it was hidden from all inspecting eyes.

In 2002, twenty two years later, it all came to a catastrophic ending.


Human trauma often follows a similar script. 


People suffer a trauma and they try to use their defenses to help them cope and manage the trauma. 

Sometimes these are sufficient, other times they are not.

Very often things will appear ok on the outside.

Just like things did with that plane up until that fateful day in May of 2002.


I mention this because people often ask: “If this trauma happened so long ago, why is this struggle only happening now?”.


Just like the airplane was able to continue flying for over 20 years with insufficient repairs, human beings can also survive and even thrive, for many years, despite not adequately addressing their trauma. 


There are many different types of trauma. Different people will cope differently, and with varying reactions. But that doesn’t mean the trauma isn’t there, and it doesn’t mean the old trauma doesn’t have the potential to rear its ugly head. 


If you are someone who has an old trauma, understand that nothing is wrong with you if it affects you many years down the road. 


Just like repairs that were good enough for twenty years might suddenly be insufficient, the coping and defense mechanisms that assisted with managing the trauma might also lose their efficacy after a period of time.


That’s how trauma works sometimes.


The actual traumatic event might have only taken a few seconds, yet it can last a lifetime.


But just like it is never too late for the trauma to cause havoc, it is also never too late to seek assistance. 


To end with a quote:

As every therapist will tell you, healing involves discomfort. But so is refusing to heal. And over time, refusing to heal is always more painful. 

– Resmaa Menakem



Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.


To speak with Yisroel about presenting at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com


Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Choosing the Correct Side

My second ever post on Times of Israel
How to tell if you're truly standing in support of victims.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Facebook Live with Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

 Tonight I had the privilege to do a Facebook Live with Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Here is the video of the entire show.




Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Monday, January 16, 2023

Oxygen Masks: Self-Care

  "You aren't doing 'nothing' when you choose to put your wellbeing first. In fact, this is the key to having everything."

 — Brittany Burgunder

I love analogies. 

It is a technique for giving over a message in a way that can be easily understood and easily accepted.

The trick, however, is finding the correct analogy. 

That means staying away from anything political and topics that can be considered controversial. 

Afterall, the goal is for the audience to accept the example and agree that it should be connected towards your topic.

I often choose analogies that involve sports, finding them to be safer. But there are many other non-controversial topics that can be used to make analogies.

Lately I have discovered a number of fascinating analogies involving airplanes, and I’d like to discuss one such analogy in this article.

When traveling on an airplane, the flight attendant will instruct you, that in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try and help others put their mask on. There is good reason for this. The fear is that if you try and help someone else get their mask on before you put yours on, there is a possibility that you could both pass out from lack of oxygen. You won’t be able to successfully place their mask on due to your lack of oxygen, and that will cause the two of you to faint. However, if you first put your mask on, you will be saved and you will also function better while helping the others put their masks on.


Our time, energy and resources are our own personal “oxygen mask”. As parents, we often feel the need to sacrifice ourselves for the betterment of our children. And we are rightful to do so. But when that continues on for too long a period of time, it hurts us. It can cause burnout, stress, fatigue, reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration, and the inability to sleep, just to name a few.


So parents need to remember about their own “oxygen mask”. 


Make sure that you can parent at 100% functioning, or even at 85% functioning (from time to time). Less than that, and we have an “low cabin pressure/oxygen mask situation”.


Meaning that the parent will need to step aside, and partake in some healthy self care. 


This should not be a source of guilt, just the opposite. It should be taken as a sign that you’re human and modeling correct behavior for your child.


Self-care is about taking care of yourself. It does not mean that you do not care about your children; quite the contrary. By making the effort to take care of yourself, you are ensuring that you can better care for your children.


We refuel cars before they run out of gas. Waiting for a car to run out of gas before refueling it is a recipe for disaster. This is because you don't know exactly when and where it will finally run out.


The same should apply to parents. Recharge your own personal batteries before they run out. 


By ignoring yourself and focusing exclusively on your child during a loss of cabin pressure at 33,000 ft, you might inadvertently harm both you and your child. 


The same holds true at sea level. 


Sacrificing yourself for what you believe is for the betterment of your child isn’t actually for the betterment of your child.


Let’s learn from the instructions of the flight crew and let’s not ignore this very important lesson.


Our oxygen masks go on first.


Even though I always start with a quote, for this article I would also like to conclude with one:


"Take care of myself doesn't mean 'me first.' It means 'me too.'" 

— L.R. Knost



Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.


To speak with Yisroel about presenting at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at yisroel@ympicker.com


Follow Yisroel on LinkedIn Here

Follow Yisroel on Facebook Here