“The normalcy bias refers to an extreme mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and also its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of the government to include the populace in its disaster preparations. The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred that it never will occur. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs.
For the purposes of this post I’d like to focus on this aspect of the normalcy bias:
People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.
This mental state is also responsible for keeping people stuck in situations that other observers recognize as clearly harmful or even toxic. To some people a situation may be toxic but at least it is familiar and for some of us, our tolerance for adversity is high as long as we remain in situations that are familiar and predictable. Most of us hate the thought of change even if it might be for our own good.
So, this explains why most people do not make significant changes in their lives until their desperation reaches the breaking point. The normalcy bias keeps people in familiar places even when familiarity is harmful. Not all familiarity is harmful of course, but sometimes it is. And when the normalcy bias reigns, as it often does, it may take some fairly bold measures from outsiders to break through the stuck impasse.