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Caveman thinking and recruitment: Four primitive behaviours to avoid


Caveman thinking and recruitment: Four primitive behaviours to avoid

Caveman thinking – that oft-used excuse for primitive behaviours – cropped up during conversations in the office this week. A client had discussed with one of the team a training session which cited research into unconscious bias in recruitment on the basis of ethnicity.

The research found discrimination occurred when two identical CVs were given to employers, one with a more traditionally white British name and one suggesting an Afro-Caribbean background. The research proposed that this was rooted in our Paleolithic past – the fear of strangers from outside the tribe – and that our brains still have this instinct, despite our knowing that this prejudice has no place in modern society.

The caveman brain has long been used to rationalise unacceptable conduct, such as infidelity or violence, and to attribute these to instincts that we can do nothing about. Well, we’ve learned a thing or two as a species in the past few thousand years and we know enough about ourselves to be able to identify and remedy bad behaviour.

Psychologist and journalist David McRaney, author of You Are Now Less Dumb, has written about predictable patterns of thought that we unconsciously fall back on to help us to navigate complicated, nuanced decisions and conclusions. The way these are played out in our everyday lives is easy to see and they can equally be applied to the workplace and recruitment. So, with that in mind, here are four caveman thinking behaviours that could be affecting you.

Extinction burst

We all know what it’s like to try to do the right thing: improving our diet, not printing off emails, that sort of thing. But it’s not easy to enter these brave new worlds and the term extinction burst relates to our tendency, while attempting to establish better habits, to revert to safe old behaviours.

Are you spending large amounts of money on traditional advertising methods? Remember that 70% of the UK’s workforce is passive; they’re not actively looking for a new role and won’t be scouring job boards and newspapers. Using a modern, professional recruitment agency will help you tap into these talented people who are happy in their role but will move for the right job.


This is the practice of relying too much on a single piece of information when making decisions. It harks back to when our hunter-gatherer ancestors lacked the time – and knowledge – to make more informed decisions.

When you’re looking for that bright new team member, is there one thing on the personal spec that you’re insisting on because you think no one without it could do the job? Ask yourself, do you really need someone with a degree? Do they have to have eight years’ experience? A little flexibility in your requirements could help you appoint a superstar in the making who simply didn’t go to uni.

Bandwagon effect

We’ve all heard the term “jump on the bandwagon”. In caveman thinking, we feel safer and more secure when we’re doing what everyone else is doing because if everyone is doing it then it must be right, right? Well, not necessarily.

Make sure you’re doing what’s best for you and your business. Perhaps others are using career experience as the way to determine future success but you want something different from your appointment. Emotional intelligence is increasingly becoming the yardstick by which candidates are assessed. Don’t be scared of using these new methods in your recruitment practices, just because the majority aren’t.

Hyperbolic discounting

This is the tendency to prefer immediate pay-offs than to play the long game for a better result. It’s essentially a grander way of describing short-termism.

When faced with the need to appoint to a pivotal role in your organisation, do you play it safe by choosing someone who is good now when another candidate will be great with a little development? Sow the seeds of longer-term thinking now and you’ll reap the benefits in time.

Further reading: Our blog Emotional Intelligence: Why It’s Key To Your Recruitment Strategy

6 December 2023 Written By adminek