Overcoming The Errors of Heuristics

AHHH! Last blog post of the semester! It’s so weird to think about! What a crazy cognitive psychology ride it’s been! I just want to say that I have enjoyed reading so many of these very interesting blog posts, and I want to thank you for bearing with my weird posts this semester! 🙂

OKAY! Let’s talk heuristics! So, after briefly covering heuristics in last week’s lecture, I decided that I wanted to gain a deeper understanding about this concept, and why we make so many errors when using heuristics. Below is a video that helped me understand what heuristics are in greater detail!

Based on this video and my lecture notes, heuristics are quick, mental short cuts that allow us to solve problems, and make decisions. Heuristics help take the unnecessary pressure of choice making off one’s shoulders. However, because these are quick judgments, they can come at a price.

Economist (and psychologist), Daniel Kahneman claimed that we have two decision systems that work at the same time. Hence, both these systems are used in different contexts. They’re known as the Automatic System (System 1), and the Conscious System (System 2). System 1 is fast and frugal, which means that it doesn’t require a lot of cognitive resources to make a decision. By using this system to make decisions, there isn’t as much drain on your cognitive capacity. System 2 is a conscious and controlled system, using lots of cognitive mechanisms to make a choice. Heuristics aligns with the automatic system (system 1). By using heuristics, one makes a rapid decision. It is because of these rapid and unconscious decisions that we can make errors.

Heuristics can often lead one into false assumptions, mistaken conclusions, or just wrong judgements. This can be shown through some specific types of heuristics. For instance, take representative heuristics. This judgement is used to categorize objects or people based on a representative prototype. For example, let’s say you meet someone who is really quiet. You may make a rapid representative heuristic and judge that person, thinking that they must work at a library or be an author because of how silent they are. It would never cross your mind that they could have a career as a lawyer or a manager (two positions that generally loud people have). In your mind, you created a representative prototype about quiet people. When you think of quiet careers, the first job that pops in your head is a librarian or a writer. Therefore, when you meet someone who is quiet, heuristics kicks in, and you may make a quick false judgement about what kind of job that person has. He or she could be a loud scary chef like Gordon Ramsey for all you know!

Another example is availability heuristics. With this heuristic, a person makes a judgment based on recent events that happened, and they estimate the probability of that recent event happening to them based on how quick those events came to mind. Take a person who is watching the news. He keeps flipping through the channels and all he sees are news stories about shark attacks, on every channel he switches to. Chances are that person is not going to a beach anytime soon because they believe the chances of a shark attacking them is highly likely to happen to them. However, if he kept watching the channels he could have avoided this availability heuristic upon learning that those shark attacks were so frequent because they applied to the beaches in Florida.

These are some of the many ways we as human’s make quick decisions and judgments without even thinking. Yes this can be beneficial like when you want to determine which biking trail to take, which movie you want to see, or which ice cream flavor you will choose at the store. Consequently, these heuristics can lead to incorrect judgements. So how do we change this? We simply need to tap into our conscious system (also known as system 2) from time to time. By being more alert and conscious, one is highly likely to catch a heuristic error before it comes out. In ways as simple as thinking before you speak. Or simply backtracking your thought process anytime you make a quick judgement. Although, the heuristic error examples I listed were small and seemed unimportant there are bigger, harmful judgments we can make because of how fast our heuristic decision making is. So, that is why it is important to take a bit more time when making a decision, think things through, think about your judgements before you accept them, and just be more aware the next time you are about to make a heuristic based decision. 😉