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Availibility heuristic: How we make quick decisions

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We have been talking quite a lot about the availability heuristic decision making strategy which is the way you think when you want to make a quick decision. Sometimes those decisions are quite easy to make such as choosing what clothing you will wear to work today and some might be quick decisions that just have to be made at the time no matter how complicated it might be. For example,you will need to make a quick decision if you are hosting a party, several people are already there, and more is expected and you realize there will not be enough table and seating place.

What happens is that a bunch of ideas may spring forth in your mind based on what you know to have happened, or are similar to what is happening to you right now. The trouble is sometimes you overestimate the frequency this could occur because of it.

For example, Mary next door, may have had too many invitees at her party and she borrowed a table from somebody else, or George had a few more people than expected and he moved everything to the yard which provided a bigger space. These solutions may have only occurred once but it is the first thing you think about as a reliable solution for your seating arrangement. The snag is it is raining outside and Mary is not home. These options were not constant even though you thought they would be.

Psychologist Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman coined the term availability heuristic in 1973. They explained that if something comes to mind easily the thinker will think that this information must be important. They also say that these quick decisions are unconscious choices. The hostess in the above situation automatically thought of Mary and George for help. Only the solutions they provided at the time was not important to the decision the hostess had to make for her party.

Accidents are a good example of the availability heuristic. If every time you turn the television on there seems to be an accident in your area, you will tend to think there are more accidents in your area then elsewhere That may be true or not true and unless you know all the accidents occurring everywhere then you cannot say that your area has more accidents than the next burrough.

Yes perhaps there were three accidents in one day which was why you came to that conclusion in the first place. However, in reality they were the only accidents in the last six months. But your thinking might lead you to take a different route out of your area because of the amount of accidents you think are occurring on that particular, street, road, highway and so on.

This is why the availability heuristic may work for a quick solution but because of overestimating how many times the solution is needed could still be wrong.

Other examples of overestimating an occurrence of some sort that will affect your behavior and decision making are: child abductions, airplane crashes, hospital deaths, job losses and so on. Because you have been exposed to hearing about all these things you will tend to begin to worry that your job is not secure even though there was no indication that anything in your work place had changed. You may decide not even to look for a job because there are no jobs out there or you may decide that you are not going to the beach because of a shark attack that you just heard about on the news.

On the other hand, because we have observed it in others we may may use the availability heuristic strategy for positive outcomes. For example not one but two of your co-workers won a large amount in the lottery and so now you are buying as many lottery tickets you can to try to win as well.

Kendra Cherry writer for about com quotes, "The availability heuristic refers to a tendency to form a judgment on the basis of what is readily brought to mind. For example, a person who is asked whether there are more English words that begin with the letter t or the letter k might try to think of words that begin with each of these letters. Since a person can probably think of more words beginning with t, he or she would (correctly) conclude that t is more frequent than k as the first letter of English words."

Furthermore, people will rely on their recall in making their decision and that includes how easily it comes to mind. For example, they must go to a new hospital and are concerned about the hospital’s reputation. They may decide not to go to that hospital if they can recall that just last week there was a death at that hospital but still decide to try the hospital if all the can recall is there was a death they think, a long time ago.

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