Our Psychological Bias For Familiarity
Human beings, for generations, have ingrained preference for that which is familiar. Talk about the so-called black-white race construct, ethnicity, tribe, or even professional, political, religious affiliations, including the strong familiarity we associate with our old schools’ “boyism/girlism,” we seem to be comfortable and more likely to be receptive and persuaded by whenever people or things around us are well known to us as opposed to things and events that are unfamiliar.
Buried deep in our subconscious is innate human’s psychological bias for familiarity. To a greater extent, this informs many of our actions or thought processes as to whether we like this or dislike that; gravitate favorably toward certain governmental initiatives, or mount fierce resistance against some unfamiliar social programmes.
Looking closely at the socioeconomic developments in the Ghana, it appears many Ghanaians are not genuinely ready for serious transformation the current government is putting in place. The underlying rationale for this seemingly show of ambivalence on the part of numerous Ghanaians toward radical change boils down to the realization that people often are incline to oppose things that are not familiar to them.
The fact is, in the annals of the nation’s checkered history, no government has ever come to implement the Free Senior High School program (SHS) throughout the whole country until the present NPP administration of Nana Akufo-Addo. Predicated on the foregoing reason, it’s clear from the lukewarm reception and the attitudes displayed—so far—by a considerable number of Ghanaians that many people are experiencing “familiarity bias syndrome.”
Put differently, there are countless people who prefer the status quo and hence do not like real change, although they claim and like to believe their prevailing conditions—in and of itself—are sufficient change. Notwithstanding, none of us needs to be told that it is quite possible those Ghanaians trying hard to smear the Free SHS are doing so because they’re not used to having tuition-free high school education for all, regardless of one’s geographical location. Hitherto, only our brothers and sisters in the northern parts of the country are used to free education.
If one were to listen to some of the talking heads in the country, it’s as if the Free SHS is an “alien concept” originally hypothesized on the planet Jupiter and forcefully imposed on Ghanaians by the present government. Implicit from the opponents’ position is the message that the familiar way the K12 education is run in Ghana entails the rich as well as the poor coughing up some money to fund their own kids schooling. Under this outmoded, self-finance practice, it is the poor Ghanaian majority who are always at the receiving end. How sad that is!
Also, this explains why whenever the Free SHS encounters some challenges as every government-initiated programme does across the globe, Ghanaians or the detractors jump the gun, insisting that their fears of the programme’s failure have been vindicated. So, rather than all coming together to find effective ways to help solve whatever problems besetting the altruistic-focused SHS initiative, many of us allow our untamed bias for familiarity gets in our driver’s seat in terms of constructing any productive argument.
Certainly, the Free SHS isn’t the only policy that had endured uninformed resistance most likely out of sheer preference for familiarity and the lack of in-depth understanding bordering on the complex network of tributaries that flow through the various phases of novel policy processes. The introduction of the president’s NaBCo jobs initiative is an unfamiliar concept but it is practically effective. Indeed, in almost every facet of the economy today, there are some forms of push-back stemming from Ghanaians’ excessive preferences for familiarity.
Having undergone period of economic stagnation for almost 8 years of the NDC’s mismanagement, then came along a new government of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) which initiated series of far-reaching yet “unfamiliar” socioeconomic programmes starting from 2017 in an attempt to salvage the battered Ghanaian economy. Prior to 2017, the average Ghanaian was not really accustomed to witnessing carefully-structured socioeconomic measures that seriously emphasize monitoring and result-based and the same time stand pole apart of the “create, loot, and share” culture that was commonplace during the Mahama-led regime.
As we know now, the new era Ghanaians wanted came in December 2016 when they voted out the familiar ways things were done in the country. But hardly had the change started gaining roots and a host of Ghanaians began whining about the socioeconomic hardships like never before. It’s amazing how people talk about change all the time; yet, a lot of the new and result-oriented government’s policies more often tend to unsettle them in their comfort zones, because sudden change takes on a life of its own and normally exposes a great deal of folks to unfamiliar terrain where they may be required to learn from scratch different ways of navigating the rough waters in life they may not be prepared for it.
Evidently, millions of Ghanaians may never be ready for any wide-ranging change that is not in sync with the entrenched cultural practice of lip-service, mediocrity, noncritical thinking, or “get-rich-quick-and-let-Ghana-burn” mindset. It’s why when one hears a good number of people bleat about the difficult “living conditions” under the present administration, one also needs to ask equally honest question regarding the then existing state of affairs under the “create, loot, and share” government of Mahama-led NDC.
In case Ghanaians can’t identify any major difference between the two governments (Nana Addo and Mahama), let them simply know that the Akufo-Addo administration will not hand out free money and four-wheeled trucks/vehicles to some media practitioners and the so-called celebrities to run around the country to canvass votes for his political campaign. That is to say the familiar approach of running government in Ghana has given way to a new day premised on pragmatic “unfamiliarity” but prioritization of policies that are of supreme interest to the nation. With the government like this, the political parasites and the free-riders in our midst will never stop complaining about the “hard times” under Nana Akufo-Addo regime.
Bernard Asubonteng is a US-based sociopolitical analyst