Tag Archives: humanitarian

Humanitarian Work and Heuristics

Over the course of the semester, we have often discussed heuristics and how they can affect our decision making in the real world. One person who has also been interested in the topics of heuristics and decision making is Paulo Goncalves, a professor at the University of Lugano in Switzerland and the academic Director Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Logistics at MIT. In this essay, Goncalves describes how heuristics can impact decisions that are made in the very important area of humanitarian relief work. For instance, he conducted a study with his MBA students where half were told that 25% of a city’s structures were destroyed in an earthquake and the other half were told that 75% of the structures had been destroyed. After receiving this information, they were asked how many people needed assistance, how confident are you in your estimate (percentage), and generate a range for your estimate (minimum and maximum). Interestingly, Professor Goncalves found that the students who had previously been told that 25% of the cities structure had been destroyed gave far lower numbers to answer all three of the questions than students who had been told 75% of the cities structures had been destroyed. Mr. Goncalves describes this result as the anchoring and adjustment heuristic coming in to play. The students use the percentage of the city’s structures destroyed as an anchor for their answer, even though it is irrelevant to the questions of how many people will need assistance, their confidence in their estimate, and the range for their estimate. I think this study is interesting because it shows how important it is to understand when heuristics are having a negative impact on our decision-making, and to learn how to overcome them in those situations.