Skydiving can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience, but it also requires careful preparation, training and awareness of the risks involved. One of the factors that can affect your skydiving performance and safety is cognitive bias. If you attended a Safety Day that covered the 2022 USPA Fatality Summary, you should know that jumpers who made poor decisions due to cognitive biases accounted for 30% of the fatalities last year. You should also know that experienced jumpers are most affected.
Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking that influence how we perceive and interpret information and that affect our decisions and judgments. They can result from various factors, such as heuristics (a mental shortcut commonly used to simplify problems and avoid cognitive overload), memory limitations, attentional biases, motivational factors and social influences. Cognitive biases can lead to irrational or suboptimal choices and sometimes have negative consequences for ourselves and others.
Some examples of cognitive biases that can affect your skydiving are:
- Overconfidence bias: Overconfidence bias can make you overestimate your skydiving ability, skills or knowledge and underestimate the uncertainties, risks or challenges involved in a jump. This can lead to poor preparation, inadequate equipment checks, reckless behavior or failure to follow safety procedures.
- Confirmation bias: This is the tendency to seek out, interpret or remember information that confirms your existing beliefs or expectations and ignore or discount information that contradicts them. Confirmation bias can make you focus on positive feedback or outcomes from your previous jumps and ignore or downplay negative feedback or results. This can lead to a false sense of security, complacency or denial of problems.
- Anchoring bias: This is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information you receive when making a decision or judgment. Anchoring bias can make you base your skydiving decisions on irrelevant or misleading information, such as the price of a repack, the weather forecast, the opinion of a friend or the first problem you encounter in a chain of unfortunate events. This can lead to poor choices, unrealistic expectations or incorrect conclusions.
To overcome cognitive biases and improve your skydiving performance and safety, you need to be aware of them and how they affect your thinking. You also need to seek out different perspectives and sources of credible, reliable and diverse information. You need to think slowly and deliberately before making a decision or judgment and weigh the pros and cons of different options.
Skydiving is a thrilling and enjoyable sport that can enhance physical and mental health. However, it also requires careful planning, training and awareness of potential risks. By overcoming cognitive biases and improving your rationality, you can make your skydiving experience safer and more fun.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training