That was probably a horrible title, but those length limits are killer :)

An example of what I'm talking about:

Statistics show that overall crime rates in the USA have been trending downwards for quite some time, yet many people in the general public think that, say, their kids are at huge risk for abduction by strangers. This can be chalked up to enhanced crime reporting and media coverage in the 21st century.

It's not happening more often, but it's being reported more often, so people think there's more of it. (Child abductions)

Another example:

Statistics show that most uses of force by law enforcement is justified, and most police behave themselves and do their job honorably. However, since the media plays up the outrage when the statistical outliers happen (someone gets shot in murky circumstances), people begin to think that cops as a whole are all trigger-happy, un-empathetic morons.

It's not happening more often, but it's being reported more often, so people think there's more of it. (Police misconduct)

Is there a specific term that describes this phenomenon?

I'd guess that "confirmation bias" kind of applies, because when you start looking for bad things, you find evidence of more bad things, but it's really easy to forget the stats in question - however, I was wondering if there's something more specific?

  • Yes, that's the "Availability heuristic".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 22:38
  • 1
    @Dan Brown I normally think that some people's 'answers' should be 'comments'. Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 22:46
  • @Edwin, 'agreed'.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 22:53
  • @DanBron, that's exactly what I'm looking for, but why on earth wouldn't you make it an answer so I could credit you for it?
    – Mikey T.K.
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 22:57
  • 2
    I will if you like. I'm not so much in this for the imaginary internet points (hence, short, simple comments, instead of detailed, well-supported answers), but if it's the answer to the question as asked, I'll record it. The next guy might appreciate that.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


This is known as the "availability heuristic", and it's not so much a fallacy as an optimization (which, like all optimizations, is necessarily also a trade-off, and sometimes misfires).

According to Wikipedia's article on the availability heuristic:

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important. Subsequently, people tend to heavily weigh their judgments toward more recent information, making new opinions biased toward that latest news.

  • I think I've heard a more specific term (something ~ bias), but it's not coming to mind at the moment, and this certainly fits.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:04
  • @Wlerin - I suspect you're thinking of 'cognitive bias' (for a general overview, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bounded_rationality ).
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 3:18
  • There is a specific "x bias" term for the availability heuristic, and I'm not recalling it either. Not confirmation bias... Darn. It's been too long since I looked at a list of ways people fool themselves and the proper terms for each.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 3:50
  • @ErikKowal No, I was definitely thinking of something more specific. The description of observation selection bias on the List of Cognitive Biases is close... but the linked article is about something completely different, and a quick google search doesn't turn up anything similar.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 6:06
  • The serial position effect is probably one of the root causes, but not what I was trying to remember.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 6:12

I think cherry picking might be appropriate.

"Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias."

I don't think it only refers to negative events though.

  • 1
    "Cherry picking" generally refers to active selection of data to yield biased results, usually deliberate or at least the result of a biased selection process.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 3:50
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    It's also an error in reasoning...maybe I need to edit the answer and focus on the 'fallacy of selective attention' - I thought that both were the same.
    – 0MM0
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 4:16

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