I'm looking for the name of the cognitive bias that is expressed in the following story.

A fellow coworker was instrumental in getting a 75 gallon fish tank installed in the lobby of the company that we work at a couple of weeks ago. The water needs to cycle for a while before fish can be introduced. The other day he was testing the water when someone walked by and asked when we would be getting fish. He said probably a week or so. The person was appalled that it would take so long to get fish.

The company had been without a fish tank for 20 years and now they've had one for a couple weeks and this person thought one or two more weeks was way too long to wait. What is the name of this bias?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sounds alot like the hedonic treadmill. $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2013 at 23:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JoshJohnson: Sounds a lot like the - there is an empty fish tank, we should probably fill it soon, now that it is actually here in the lobby....and that cycling the water and getting fish shouldn't take that long, in scope of themselves. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2013 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ Adding to Greg McNulty: as long as the fish tank was just an idea in someone's head, the other people didn't much care about it; but now that they see it, they are irritated by its unfinished and probably unattractive appearance. So this is not a bias, I think, but one of many natural reactions to a construction site within your living or working habitat. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Jul 21, 2013 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ It is a question of unsatisfied need, not bias. ie, you are going to shopping with a list, after shopping you realize that you bought few things more. you satisfied needs which were not in your focus. $\endgroup$
    – ICanFeelIt
    Jul 22, 2013 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ in addition bias could be seen in a behavior which product you'v choosen. Is it cheap or well advertised product or something new... etc. $\endgroup$
    – ICanFeelIt
    Jul 22, 2013 at 9:33

2 Answers 2


It's not a bias. It is natural human nature. At least the 2 year old's case is.

It's just like how you would not have thought of going to Six Flags (An amusement park) unless it was mentioned to you.

When the 2 year old hears ice cream, the kid thinks of the sweet taste, or the pleasure ice cream brings. In the kid's case, the case is impatience or inability to defer gratification.

For the employee, it is simply that he thinks the cycling of the tank and fish delivery would take less longer than a week or two.

The two examples are both different things. I am positive that the 2 year old's case is NOT a bias. The employee's case may simply be surprise.

  • $\begingroup$ Your first two sentences are written as if to imply that biases aren't part human nature. That doesn't seem reasonable to me. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2016 at 3:50

I never knew the name for this before and used to just call it "awareness bias"; however, upon reading your question, I did a little bit of digging on Wikipedia and found out about the mere exposure effect, also known as the "familiarity principle" in social psychology.

My other source was this page.

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    $\begingroup$ I favor Philip's: “Mere Exposure Effect” in that the preferences of the person that walked by the fish tank had been positively influenced and he began to think more and more about the decisions he was going to be making due to the decisions of other people that also were influenced by the fish tank. Source: How Cognitive Fluency Affects Decision Making uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2011/07/… $\endgroup$
    – d-morris
    May 24, 2016 at 1:15

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