Survivorship bias often operates with “failure” and “success.” We draw some conclusions from the “successful” things, which leads to the survivorship bias.

My question: is it still a survival bias, when failures (in common understanding of this word) “survive”, and successes “die.” In that case, somebody could draw an overly “pessimistic” conclusion wrongly.

Few examples. Would you say those are survivorship biases?

  1. Manager criticizes a worker on not getting things done, and points only to the examples when worker didn’t do a good job. Manager doesn't notice other cases, because things don’t attract much attention when worker completes their work on time.

  2. Wife criticizes her spouse for not taking many home duties (fixing stuff, shopping, etc.) not noticing those cases when a spouse does home duties (because of lack of attraction to those cases).

3 Answers 3


I don't think they are good examples. As a worker, or a spouse, both mundane everyday things are important, and things that require special skills or efforts.

survivorship bias when "failures" survive, "successes" die

This puts me in mind of Punctuated Equilibrium. Consider the case of someone who insists on being able to do everything for themselves, like a survivalist or a prepper. They might seem paranoid, or antisocial in ordinary times, they don't put their energies into socially approved of things. But if there is a war, or a climate disaster, a volcano, a comet, skills and knowledge that have been of low utility socially, suddenly become critical to survival.

In evolutionary theory, we have come to understand change is usually very slow, then a disruption happens, and only a few species survive. The long darkness after the Chixulub impact, gave warmblooded mammals a critical edge, and previously well-adapted dinosaurs died out, except (warm-blooded) birds. The surviving species diversified rapidly to fill emptied niches, and stasis returned.

In the UK we have allotments, in Russia they developed a system of dachas. In a world of Green-Revolution plenty, it's like a weird hobby. But knowing how to grow your own food I think answers a deep anxiety, that results from times like the Netherlands' Hunger-Winter, or the Great Chinese Famine - the Netherlands is the worlds second largest food exporter after the far far larger USA, and China has revolutionised their coastal aquaculture to provide more than 10% of the nations calories.

So don't only think of now. Think of how pandemics like the Black Death, or many cholera outbreaks, or wars, have affected populations. A little energy put towards things that seem irrelevant or counterproductive now, may have seen some ancestor get through a population bottleneck, and help repopulate the world.

A South Asian volcano that wiped out a huge area of hominids, may have been as important to homo sapiens successfully leaving Africa as anything else, after they had survived their own long population bottleneck associated with a volcanic-winter.

We don't just play the odds now, we have to play the long odds too,in the long run.


It’s a survivorship bias if the bias tends to reinforce the behaviour or property to which it relates, regardless of whether the behaviour or property is considered to be ‘good’. It’s not clear in the examples that you give how the subjects’ behaviour might change, if at all. To address your question directly, by definition the successes are the survivors in the context of survivorship bias.


In fact they are not successes, because no one is going to appreciate you how good breather you are but will be criticized if you choke on quite frequently because You are suppose to do it. It's your job!. Same way if turn up your work on time no one will appreciate because for the same reason you are there but if you quite too frequently getting late you are defying the purpose so you are fired. The way to garner appreciation could include doing your task way to before deadline with appreciable quality because that shows agility and more work capacity boosting the fact you deserve higher order jobs of more responsibility i.e. Promotion.

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