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A Science & Engineering OnLine Laboratory Notebook   
This is the laboratory notebook of Damon Bruccoleri. Here you will find engrossing, thoughtful and fun commentary/opinion. Leave a comment and let others know what you think about any post here, view my photo gallery, or sign my guestbook.


"...one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought." - Albert Einstein

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 Friday, December 08, 2006

What is the Availability Heuristic and how does it apply to me?   
I have been doing some research into choices, why people make them and what makes us satisfied. I came across the availability heuristic discovered and reported by researchers Kahneman and Tversky. A heuristic is a rule of thumb that can describe how humans solve particular problems. For example, a heuristic might go something like this, “if you’re stuck in a maze then hug the right wall and walk forward until you get out”. The rule of thumb need not be correct in 100% of the instances, but it is how we think humans solve a problem.

maze.jpgThe Availability Heuristic says that the more vivid some memory is the more we are likely to say it occurred more frequently regardless of the actual data. The memory could be more vivid for any number of reasons. It could be particularly painful or pleasurable, it could have occurred most recently, or possibly it is associated with some emotions. An example of this would be when you arrive somewhere and say “I am so late, I hit every red light on the way here”. The actual number of red lights you hit compared to any other day is irrelevant, it just ‘feels’ like you did.

The Availability Heuristic is one of the reasons we make dumb decisions, and probably the reason we are able to make quick decisions. I would suggest that humans use it because life would be much more difficult to cope with if we did not.

The application of our understanding of this heuristic is particularly relevant now that the holidays approach. If you are purchasing products online do you read the user reviews many online merchants now post? Are you more likely to believe the posts that are more vivid, extreme or emotional over the actual data on sites like Consumer Reports? When voting in the election, are you more likely to pick a candidate that evokes a strong response on one issue rather than the historical record?

If you are interested in more information on this topic then Google ‘Availability Heuristic’. It’s an interesting topic.

admin4 at 10:15 AM |
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