The Hidden Figures: Unravelling Survival Bias and Its Five Real-Life Manifestations

Life Philosophy
The Hidden Figures: Unravelling Survival Bias and Its Five Real-Life Manifestations


In the game of life, we’re dealt countless cards of probabilities and predictions, each influencing our choices. What if I told you that our decisions could be shaped by an unseen cognitive flaw that skews our perception of reality? Enter: survival bias. This article explores what survival bias is and delves into five real-life examples of survival bias to enlighten us about its pervasive influence.

What is Survival Bias?

Survival bias, also known as survivorship bias, is a cognitive bias that occurs when we focus on the survivors or successful instances while overlooking the ones that failed or didn’t make it to our observation. This skewed viewpoint can lead to false conclusions, incorrect assumptions, and flawed decisions. It’s as if we’re looking at life through rose-tinted glasses, seeing only the victorious whilst the fallen remain unseen and forgotten.

1. Unravelling the Mystery of Successful Start-ups

The Illusion of Prosperity

Consider the world of start-ups. Stories of successful companies like Facebook or Amazon captivate us and fuel our entrepreneurial dreams. But what about the start-ups that failed, the ones we’ve never heard of? They, too, hold valuable lessons but are often left unspoken, creating a distorted image of success. This instance is a prime example of survival bias, where we only hear about the survivors, thus influencing our perception of success.

2. The Art World’s Unseen Struggles

A Brush with Bias

In the realm of art, survival bias also has a profound influence. The lives of celebrated artists like Picasso or Van Gogh are studied extensively; their struggles are romanticised. But what about countless artists who toil away without recognition or success? Their stories are left untold, skewing our understanding of artistic success and the actual challenges of making it in the art world.

3. A Fitness Misconception

Muscling Through Bias

The fitness industry is no stranger to survival bias. We are bombarded by pictures of fit and healthy individuals endorsing workout regimens or diets that worked for them. But what about those for whom these didn’t work? Their stories remain unheard, creating a skewed perception of fitness success and reinforcing survival bias.

4. The Hidden Victims of the Titanic

Sailing Through Bias

Historical events can also demonstrate survival bias. Consider the Titanic: we often focus on the survivors’ stories, bravery, and resilience. Yet, the stories of those who perished are equally crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the event. By overlooking them, we perpetuate survival bias.

5. The Stock Market Mirage

Investing in Bias

The world of investing presents another classic instance of survival bias. Successful stocks are highly publicised, leading many to believe that success in the stock market is easily attainable. However, the reality of failed stocks often goes unnoticed, creating a survival bias that can lead to poor investment decisions.


Q1. Is survival bias always a bad thing?

Not necessarily. Survival bias can sometimes provide valuable insights if we remain aware of its existence and adjust our perspective accordingly.

Q2. Can survival bias be eliminated completely?

While it’s challenging to eliminate survival bias completely, being aware of it can help us mitigate its influence on our decision-making.

Q3. How does survival bias influence our daily life?

From choosing fitness plans to entrepreneurial ventures, survival bias subtly influences our decisions, often without us realising. It can lead us to make choices based on incomplete information.

Q4. How can we counter survival bias?

By actively seeking out the stories of those who didn’t make it to our observation, we can broaden our perspective and make more informed decisions.

Q5. Why is it important to understand survival bias?

Understanding survival bias is critical to making well-rounded, informed decisions. It helps us to question and critically analyse the information we’re presented with.

Q6. What’s the connection between survival bias and the media?

The media often highlights success stories while ignoring failures. This can contribute to survival bias, shaping our perceptions and expectations of success.


In the grand tapestry of life, we often neglect to consider the threads that didn’t make it into the final weave. Understanding survival bias and its real-life examples helps us appreciate the unseen, unheralded, and oft-forgotten elements of stories, struggles, and statistics. We can strive to make decisions rooted in a more comprehensive understanding of reality by addressing this bias.

Survival bias will persist in a world where the victorious are celebrated, and the unsuccessful are overlooked. Yet, by recognising its existence and understanding its influence, we can see the whole picture rather than a carefully curated fragment. With this knowledge in hand, we can sidestep the pitfalls of survival bias and navigate our way towards well-informed decisions.

  • Adam Grant

    Adam Grant is a highly qualified writer with a solid educational background in finance, holding a Bachelor's degree in Economics and a Master's degree in Business Administration (MBA). With his expertise in financial matters and a deep understanding of investment principles, Adam shares his insights to educate readers on the importance of financial literacy and smart investing strategies. Additionally, he has pursued courses in health and wellbeing, allowing him to offer a holistic perspective on achieving overall wellness in conjunction with financial stability.

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