This information was taken from my Level 1 Decision making in Avalanche Terrain handbook through the San Juan Mountain Guides, in Ouray Colorado. This past winter I took my Avi1 cert in a 3 day in field study of conditions and use of safety equipment. This section seemed too important for me not to share it's content information as it were written: Taking courses from trained guides is an Invaluable experience. Thanks for the great experience Patrick & team!
Identify Potential Human Factor Traps
This section outlines a list of common Human Factor Traps that lead to accidents, in the field, catch developing situations early & mitigate them using the Human Factors Solutions offered in the next section. Even experienced backcountry travelers succumb to these decision making traps. Watchful team members can identify human factor traps & take deliberate steps to enact solutions and correct errors.
- Social Pressure:
- Overconfidence & Low Self Confidence:
- Closed Mindedness:
- Impaired Objectivity:
Social pressures exert an invisible and powerful force on perception and Mentality. Several common Human Factor Traps are related to these pressures.
- Peer Pressure: People are susceptible to peer pressure. It can be the lone dissenter. Professionals such as ski patrollers & Guides have additional status within the group & potential to affect decisions
- Social Proof/ Risky Shift: Social proof is the idea that an action is correct because other people are doing it is a phenomenon identified where a group may accept a higher level of risk than each individual might choose alone. These two traps relate to what has been called the "herding instinct"- the illusion of safety in numbers.
- Scarcity: Also identified as a common trap . Scarcity is a trap related to the pressures of a window of opportunity or a diminishing resource. The most common example of this is "power Fever" seen in popular back country areas with limited terrain. The desire to capitalize on a special, limited opportunity can cause people to make poor terrain
- Acceptance: The tendency to engage in activities that we think will get us noticed or accepted by our peers, or by people whose respect we seek. Alain de Bottom (2004) refers similarly to "Status Anxiety," or the desire for status in modern society & the anxiety resulting from a focus on how one is perceived by others. It is easy to see how this pressure can become a trap that influences people to make poor backcountry decisions.
- Individualism: People sometime have a compulsion to feel uniquely individual. Those who don't embrace a team mentality often show an inability to communicate effectively, a lack of empathy for other group members, & an unwillingness to listen to the group. This leads to a lack of cohesion in the team and can influence group decision making adversely.
Overconfidence & Low Self Confidence
According to one study by Atkins (ISSW, 2000), Overconfidence was the leading human factor attributed to Fatal avalanche accidents by people with some level of Formal avalanche training. Overconfidence is a dangerous trap as it generally results in more risky behavior.
- Overconfident Effect: This effect is a well-established Bias in which one's subjective confidence in their judgement is greater than their objective accuracy. Numerous studies demonstrate that this bias can adversely affect backcountry decisions.
- Actual Vs. Perceived Risk: There is a gap between perception and reality. Since decisions can only be based on perception, this trap can lead to miscalculation of risk and poor choices.
- Technology: In the modern world, technology has made possible the inconceivable. People demand more from their safety equipment, electronics, and study tools than technology is actually able to provide. This can lead to a misperception of risk.
- Education: "A large percentage of people caught in avalanches had former avalanche training"~ McCammon (2000). A little knowledge can offer just enough confidence to overreach on decisions. It takes a lot of experience on top of training to make consistently good decisions, & what experts come to realize is that it is rare to be very confident when it comes to forecasting avalanches.
- Abilities Outperforming Experience: Skiers & Snowboarders can become expert riders as teenagers in the boundaries of a ski resort. Sometimes, it is hard for them to imagine that they might only be beginners at backcountry decision making, even though they are capable of great feats of mountain athleticism. Confidence in physical abilities has a tendency to transcend to overconfidence in terrain decisions.
- Low Self Confidence: Low self-confidence can lead people to distrust their instincts & allow them to agree with a decision that they intuitively feel is wrong, in some cases, people with little formal training or group members with less experience than the leader, may observe or become aware of significant data that are crucial to the decision being made. These people are often unwilling to challenge or question the "experienced" leader or status quo in the group even when they have information or knowledge that others do not
The filters listed below affect the ability to observe, process, & respond to information, resulting in a deceptively incomplete picture.
- Conservatism: "Failure to change(or changing slowly) one's own mind in the light of new information or evidence"- Avalanche Handbook (2006). There is inertia changing from what was known, to what is known now following new information. Before the adjustment is made, poor decisions may result.
- Recency: In one's mind, recent events dominate those in the past, which may be downgraded or ignored. This trap can allow more recent information to override more relevant information from the past. For example, this trap might lead one to base terrain choices on recent habits, rather than modifying the approach to match a successful strategy used in similar snow-pack conditions not seen for 3 years.
- Frequency: Again, in one's mind, more frequent events dominate those that are less frequent. This is a trap because smaller storm events tend to be more frequent than large ones, but larger ones can present higher danger.
- Availability: This trap involves making decisions based on past events easily recalled by memory, to the exclusion of other relevant information. The availability of memories to be recalled may cause unusual or exceptional events to be treated as more common and may bias the decision maker to disregard other important data.
- Prior Experience: People tend to see problems in term of their own background or experience. For example, one can imagine that a snowboarder with experience gained riding a resort terrain park might have a different approach to terrain use than an experienced backcountry snowmobiler.
Decision making shortcuts are ways to simplify complex scenarios. Humans tend to find the most energy efficient path, and it is generally easier to abandon or shortcut the complex process and just go for it.
- Stress & Logistics Pressure: Feelings of stress & pressure can complicate decision making. Uncorrected errors often result in increased stress, as do unanticipated conditions or scenarios. Time applies pressure. When stressed or under pressure the tendency is to take shortcuts to change the immediate scenario.
- "Rules of Thumb" or Habits: Habits tend to shortcut thoughtful evaluation. Independent rules of thumb may be functional at times, but often oversimplify the problem. Good terrain selection is a complex process that demands unique assessment for each situation. Dependence on rules will lead to a decreased in accuracy, & errors can be fatal.
- Decisions from Few Observations: Observations take time and energy to gather. Consider if the quality/ quantity of observations represents reality, or simply convenient support for the group's desire to not find instability. example "I don't see any avalanches, it must be good.
- Back to the Barn: The urge to simply "get it over with" and return to safety, food & shelter is powerful. Commonly, people make poor decisions late in the day, when people are tired and nearly home.
Expert Halo: People with more experience or knowledge tend to be perceived as experts. Group members often shortcut their own cognitive process and allow someone they perceive as more competent to dominate the decision making.
These examples illustrate circumstances where people fail to objectively perceive reality, but rather see the world through their own subjective filter.
- Search for Supportive Evidence: Tremper (2001) says that people often say, "I'll believe it when i see it," when actually it is the other way around. People tend to see what they already believe to be true. People tend to gather facts that lead to certain conclusions and disregard facts that threaten them.
- Familiarity/ Non-event Feedback Loop: McCammon (2002) pointed out that many accidents happen in familiar terrain. People often feel comfortable in familiar areas. They let their guard down or base their current decisions on past experiences. The trap here relates to the " Non-Event Feedback Loop"in decision choice. The traveler may have been simply "lucky"It may be only a matter of time before acquired habits that seem adequate result in an accident
- Blue Sky/ Euphoria: When experiencing such a day with great snow conditions the hormones released during the throes of euphoria can cloud judgment.
- Optimism: This is a bias also known as "wishful Thinking" and has been referred to as "Commitment" by McCammon (2002). The more one prefers an action, the stronger the bias toward deciding to do it. Optimism to the exclusion of disappointing information can lead to the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic