Cognitive Bias

A lot has been said about cognitive bias, an essential survival route-map our brain is wired with.

I have no intention of adding to the theory today. Let me give you just one practical, personal instance.

Those days, I used to live in Aamchi Mumbai… the Naval Quarters. I studied in a Kendriya Vidyalaya that was a 5 minutes walk from my home, within the security gates of the residential area. I played right downstairs on the inter quarters road where only Navy vehicles plied. In short, I lived in one of the safest places in Mumbai back then. I was almost eight. I was extremely fair. I was a bubbly, gullible and happy go lucky child…a far cry from my personality today.

That never-to-be-forgotten evening, I was playing hopscotch with my friends. An older person, someone who worked with my father, came by and caught hold of my hand. I was wearing a bright red sweater that day… something that set off my skin tone to its most rosy and vibrant tone. That my father bought for me against my mother’s wishes, considering my skin tone. Why am I going on and on about the skin tone ? As you probably know at your own cost, fair skin is an unfair commodity. To people at both ends of this polarization. Even today, but much more so back then.

So this person, whom I knew as one of my father’s colleagues, told me he had a little girl waiting to play with me, back at his house. She was unwell, wouldn’t I please go in and play with her for a little while ? Nowadays, an 8 year old would be on instant alert. But this was 1989. “Uncles” were not strangers yet. 8 year olds had no formal education in stranger danger. As the daughter of a naval engineer, I was privileged. I was living in a small nuclear family, where we four looked out for each other. There had never been a reason to really fend for myself till that day.

He took me to a first floor apartment in the next building. Unease spread through my spine. I barely remember the moment he let go of his firm hold on my hand to open the lock on his door. In that instant, I turned around and ran away, stopping to breathe and think only after I was back home in my room.

For years I analyzed that evening. How did I let myself get that far. What finally alerted me. What changed a gruesome ending to a close call.

My young brain must have stored away that a locked door meant nobody inside, much less an unwell child. My brain knew I was being lied to, though I had no idea. It told me to run, and I listened to it even before I consciously heard it.

And so you and I have Cognitive Bias to say thank you to, for this story told today.

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