We make decisions and judgments every day – do we trust someone, should we do something (or not), which route to take, how to respond to someone who’s upset… the list goes on and on. If we carefully consider and analyse every possible outcome of these decisions and judgments, we would never be able to do anything else. Thankfully, our mind makes things easier for us by using efficient thinking strategies known as heuristics. A heuristic is a mental shortcut that helps us make decisions and judgments quickly without having to spend a lot of time researching and analysing information.
On most occasions, heuristics are extremely helpful, but, sometimes, they can lead to errors in judgment too. There are different categories or types of heuristics, however, there are two that are although useful in many situations, can lead even the most intelligent people to make dumb decisions: availability and representativeness heuristics.
- The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut which helps us make a decision based on how easy it is to bring something to mind. In other words, we often rely on how easy or difficult it is to think of examples when making a decision or judgment. The problem with availability heuristic is that we assume that if several examples are readily available in our mind, the event or subject matter is commonplace. But that assumption is not always correct as no two situations are alike.
- When people use categories in order to make a decision about a person, thing or event they are utilizing representativeness heuristics. Using representativeness heuristics during problem solving or decision making can also give rise to several fallacies. These fallacies can lead to poor decision making or problem solving for the person that often falls victim to this way of thinking.