Our first perceptional fallacy is called the availability error because we all have the tendency to judge something or someone by the first thing that comes to our mind (Garb & Boyle, 2003). For example, when you meet your next client, what was said in a recent training session comes to mind more easily than an older idea and you may find yourself categorizing a client in terms of the last workshop you attended. In addition, clinicians are more likely to diagnosis a particular problem if they have had recent experience with a similar case (Bensley, 1998). This is the power of availability.
Now we need to define “available” a little more precisely. Available material is the information that an addiction professional has most recently encountered or that produces strong emotion. It also includes the dramatic and concrete, and leaves the imprint of strong images in the mind.
Piattelli-Palmarini (1994) talks about this fallacy in terms of acquiescence or acceptance. That is, when faced with a reasonable method of solving a problem we usually accept it the way it was framed, and often don't look for alternative forms of resolution. This availability error gives rise to anchoring. That is, people, and most certainly addiction professionals, often remain anchored to their original opinion. We create first impressions that are difficult to change. Counselors who return from certain popular workshops often expound the new information they have just learned to all who will listen, and especially to their clients. They have acquiesced to a preferred mode or made a quick impression, (PiattelliPalmarini, 1994). Sometimes, for years after being exposed to certain arguments, they will continue to interpret their clients and entire social systems in terms of how they acquired their original information. Often this is carried over into staff meetings, and whole programs can get caught up in the latest movement without any critical thinking taking place.
To offset this pernicious fallacy, always consider alternatives and question even your best formed conclusions.
The very act of asking questions of a client can affect a perception. This phenomenon is called reactivity (Levy, 1997). Two associated biased outcomes are the thinking forms called the halo and the