Are You A Flake?: An Explanation of Flakiness
by Zoe Sullivan


It’s 10 o’clock on a Friday night. You just took an exam that you have been studying for non-stop for the past two days, forfeiting sleep, your health, and several social activities. All you really want to do is sleep; however, you promised your friends you would go out with them tonight. As your phone lights up and you notice that your buddy is trying to get a hold of you, you mentally debate whether you should obey the urge to sleep and disappoint your friend, or ignore your physical state in order to please them.
It is the ultimate debate writhing around in your conscience. Do you opt for a much needed night-in of sleep and flake on your friend, or do you sacrifice your shut-eye to keep your promise?
Virtually everyone has been in this same situation, including me. A few months ago, I would often make plans with my friends and acquaintances, only to decide after-the-fact that I did not feel like venturing out, or that I was simply too busy. I started to hear many complaints from my friends that I would never hang out with them, and that I was, in fact, a “flaky” friend.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and change this perception people had of me. I started to follow up on the previous plans I had made. I also tried harder to be the one to initiate outings.
After actively changing my behavior, I noticed something: my friends were flaking on me this time around. The tables had turned, and I realized how hypocritical people can be once the situation is reversed.
The truth is, everyone is flaky, to some degree. Generally, people are just more likely to notice something you are doing wrong while dismissing their own, similar behavior.
After researching some psychological concepts related to this human tendency, I have determined that this phenomenon can be explained by two types of inherent biases we have: the “myside” bias and the negativity bias.
The “myside” bias refers to “my side” of the issue under debate. This occurs when an individual places too much weight on evidence that supports one’s belief, and too little weight on evidence that does not. In the realm of flakiness, people may come up with the assumption that you are flaky after one occurrence, and may continue to focus on evidence that supports their hypothesis. In turn, they ignore the evidence that does not support their hypothesis. They may also dismiss their own flaky behavior, as people mostly like to think of themselves in a positive way, and do not want to contradict this theory.
The negativity bias is caused by the fact that your barain is built with great sensitivity to unpleasant news. Multiple psychological studies have shown that negative information is better remembered and causes more electrical activity in the brain compared to neutral information. This mechanism has an evolutionary advantage: to keep us out of harm’s way. The brain developed systems that would make it impossible for us to avoid danger, and in turn, encourage us to respond to it.
These two biases may explain a lot about human behavior and the reason why we make judgments about others while ignoring our own behavior, in this case, our degree of flakiness. The truth is, we are all busy, and we are all flaky. We all have intricate, ongoing events in our lives. This makes it impossible to express the vast complexity of our lives to every person, every day. Our busy lifestyle is bound to cause some miscommunication.
Are you a flaky friend? Probably. But so is everyone else, so don’t sweat it.