Heuristics: Everything You Need to Know

A heuristic is a problem-solving technique requiring minimal time and mental effort. Though heuristics appear practical when making decisions and need limited cognitive resources, people might overlook critical information and act according to one’s biases.


What Is a Heuristic?


There are issues each day that do not require much time to figure out. Therefore, heuristics are the rules of thumb that are enough to resolve the concern no matter how little or big the information about the problem is. Common sense, educated guess, and stereotyping are ways to figure out solutions requiring limited cognitive resources.


Do heuristics make us more successful?


Heuristics are a product of people’s past experiences; that is why they tend to be reliable. These solutions have been tested throughout the years, and in countless situations, that is why they work. Heuristics can help save time and resources and can be utilized in tackling more complex problems. Therefore, people become successful in maximizing limited resources.


Why do we use heuristics?


Heuristics offer practicality. Instead of overthinking and overanalyzing situations, heuristics can be the mental shortcut people need to make intelligent decisions.


Are evolved heuristics useful in modern life?


Not all. Some heuristics that were useful to early humans may not be universally relevant in the present time. The familiarity heuristic, for instance —in which choosing the familiar is safer than the unknown—served as a reliable guide to early humans concerning food choice or relating with people, which might be considered biased or harmful in modern times.


Different Kinds of Heuristics


Renowned psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were the proponents of the study

of heuristics in the 1970s. Kahneman and Tversky identified the different heuristics, including the availability heuristic and the anchoring heuristic.

Since then, the study of heuristics has developed throughout as more and more researchers continued their work, resulting in the following kinds of heuristics:


  • Familiarity heuristic
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Representativeness heuristic
  • Satisficing


What is the anchoring heuristic?


From the word anchoring, the first piece of information anchors or sets the tone in the decision-making process. The pre-existing knowledge about the situation may influence the decision or judgment. As a result, people will choose not to change their minds anymore, even if necessary, because they choose to settle with the anchored information.


What is the availability heuristic?


The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that aids the person in making the decision right away based on the information or events that are easily remembered and embedded in the mind almost instantly, instead of looking at the probability. For instance, deciding not to ride airplanes anymore is based on the plane crash they remembered seeing on the news.


What is the representativeness heuristic?


The representativeness heuristic is a mental shortcut to judge how a person or thing is based on their known entities. For example, people may automatically perceive a farmer as hardworking, strong, and challenging; or a person filled with tattoos can be considered a suspect in an investigation. Such is based on the schema a person has about the other.


What is satisficing?


Satisficing, a combination of words, satisfy and suffice, is a decision-making strategy that is good enough to solve the problem without overthinking it. The decision is based on the criteria, enough research has been made, and the objective is met. The key to this decision-making is not to spend much time analyzing all options. This is effective on problems that are low stake and that the consequences are not long-term.


When Heuristics Are Wrong


Heuristics are wrong when decisions about to be made are high-staking like making a diagnosis, judging in a courtroom, making investments, and managing fear. They also lead to complacent decisions and hinder expansion and learning from new experiences.


What is the fundamental attribution error?


This is when the person quickly judges the other for their action without consideration of the other external or circumstantial factors. For instance, labeling someone as irresponsible and a slacker because they arrived late due to unexpected traffic.


How can I make better decisions?


Making decisions and finding solutions can be done more reliably by adhering to the 16 Habits of Mind. These habits encourage unbiased and rash judgment and cultivate behaving intelligently to develop better solutions. These habits are methodological, and if practiced regularly, they become automatic in individuals or organizations.

Choose your Reaction!