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EVER HEARD OF NOVELTY BIAS? Well, I hadn’t, until recently.

As I crossed the Adyar bridge on my way home from work yesterday, I saw a big crowd looking out into the murky waters and discussing animatedly. Many stopped their two-wheelers and went out to look- and so the traffic came to a standstill. Not to be left behind, I peeped out too- someone asked, “enna saar aachu?’ - another said there was a floating body. Was it a suicide? Where is the world heading to?

Turned out to be flotsam – debris tangled in plants and cloth and refuse.

We as human beings are attracted towards anything that is out of ordinary, new, unique, or in any way different from what we have known or seen.

Scientists say that the human mind is wired that way- right from prehistoric times. When the early man saw fire, he must have been intrigued by its unique nature – before he used it for warmth, then for cooking and tamed it to the extent that he could carry it around in his pocket- as a matchbox.

This temperament is called NOVELTY BIAS- the attraction towards anything that is new. We always tend to stare at the person who is dressed in the most bizarre costume at a party. We can immediately spot a drunk man lying on the pavement, however crowded the street may be. Anything that is not usual, our senses tell us to check that out- can that be a danger? Or will there be an opportunity? Do I have to act immediately?

This is the very characteristic of the human brain that the social media loves to tap. The ‘REELS’ or the ‘SHORTS’ or the other 15 second audio visual treats that we see are just food for our prehistoric minds with Novelty bias. The algorithms used in the websites know this- and use AI to manipulate our little helpless brains.

So much so, that we cannot stop swiping up, looking at these short bite sized videos, losing track of time. No one knows what they are looking for – just loops of endless little treats – each one of them different, and the prospect of not knowing what the next 10 second video will be about. The very novelty of this browsing routine keeps us hooked on to it.

So much so, that some even choose aimless browsing for hours at end over watching films or a web series. This is addiction at a very different level – which eats on human mind and makes us gizmo- hooked zombies.


Jayashree V

March 12, 2023


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