What Are Heuristics?


Every day you make decisions and judgments. Sometimes you’re able to think about them
carefully, but other times you make them on the fly using little information. This is where heuristics come in. Heuristics are straightforward rules of thumb
that we develop based on our past experiences. They’re cognitive tools that help us make quick decisions or judgments. Life would be exhausting if we had to deliberate
over every one of the hundreds of choices we make every day. So instead we use our heuristics as shortcuts
to make judgements about the world around us. For example, rather than spending time
deciding what to wear every day, you might have some default outfits. Or when faced with a lunch menu with too many
options, you may opt for what you’ve enjoyed in the past. Heuristics aren’t about making the perfect
decision or judgment, just about making one quickly. Heuristics play a role in our reasoning about
the broader world too. As an example, consider the rate of violence
in the world over the past century. Is the world more or less violent in the past
20 years than previously? Heuristic reasoning might lead to think that
the world is more violent today than it has been in the past. Every day we’re confronted with images of
tragedy in the news and on social media. We might reasonably assume that the world
is more violent today than ever before, using what’s called an “availability heuristic.” That is, examples of violence that so readily
available, we just naturally assume the world is more violent today. But in fact the world is more peaceful today
than ever before in human history. We may hear a lot about violent events but
in terms of raw numbers, fewer people die today at the hands of other humans beings
than ever before. So that heuristic about how violent the world
is, is incorrect. In fact, a slew of other heuristics can easily
to mistaken conclusions. And it doesn’t matter how smart or well educated
you are. Anyone can place too much trust in the mental
shortcuts they use to make sense of the world. Take this example. Let’s say a person tests positive for a rare
disease, one that only one-in-a-thousand people have. What is the likelihood that he actually has
the disease? Most of us would say the likelihood is very
high based on the test results alone. But what if the results were inaccurate 10%
of the time? If the false positive rate is 10%, a common
number in medical tests, then it is highly unlikely our patient has the disease. In fact, based on the prevalence of the disease
and the test result, we can be 99% sure he doesn’t have the disease. This is because the odds of the getting a
false positive result, one in 10, are much higher than the odds of actually having the
disease, one in 1,000. But in multiple studies, physicians routinely
get this wrong, overestimating the likelihood that their patient actually has the disease. Psychologists call this the “representativeness
heuristic.” People assume an individual case is more representative than it actually is. Our political views can especially suffer
from an over-reliance on heuristics. Just consider how we deal with political issues. We’ll often let our political identities, and
our heuristics about how right we think they are, stand in lieu of important details and
information we need to have an informed viewpoint. Because our heuristics can so easily lead
us to faulty conclusions, it’s important to be humble about our views. In light our fallibility, we have to do something
that doesn’t come easy, we must recognize that the world is an uncertain place and that
our judgements about it are often wrong. We ought to listen to opinions we may initially
consider wrong or even offensive. Our intuitions are useful, even necessary
when it comes to making quick judgments about the world. But that doesn’t mean they’re correct. Recognizing the flawed nature of your thinking
is a bold first step to challenging it.

28 thoughts on “What Are Heuristics?

  1. Arthur Schopenhauer did study dialeticity heuristic: how people argue to each other looking for won the speech but without get reasonable. In The Art of Always Being Right (book).

  2. That example with the false positive medical test is not accurate at all. If a doctor was randomly testing people regardless of symptoms, perhaps it would make sense. But if you have a medical problem sever enough to go get a test, and the doctor is concerned enough to order that test, and the result comes back positive, you'd better not be 99% sure that the test is wrong. What kind of advice is that?

  3. Seems more like cognitive dissonance, and understandable ignorance or just plain conditioning as a result of heuristic principle.

  4. What a revolutionary concept! If this was a real thing it could solve the race problem, the immigrant problem, the gender identity crisis problem, hell, almost all of the problems facing the world today!
    It strongly resembles the mythical concepts of common sense and critical thinking of long ago……..

  5. Too much weight was given to the negative aspects of heuristics and not enough attention was allotted to explain why they are supremely beneficial for many things and also how complex the cognitive process of heuristics actually is.

  6. So by this logic, evolutionsist should consider that they might be wrong… only a handful of the most honest ever seem to express that.

  7. That is correct but i will have to disagree with the given example about the world being much peaceful than ever before it's true that the world in the dark ages was ruled by the sword and every man was for himself but if we consider the militant forces of destruction of our present time such as nuclear weapons of mass destruction we will come to see that our world of today isn't a safer place , and it's still pretty much ruled by force

  8. P R O P A G A N D A 101 Dont shoot me down for exposing to you what it is.
    Use your heads people. Did you ask for this tripe???

  9. @Learn Liberty SUPER AMAZING VIDEO

    Completely ruined by Background music

    Can you Please Please Please Please Please Please re-upload this, with out BG music so i can watch it. I only made it 2 minutes in and that noise was too much. PLEASE uplaod this with out music.

  10. That example with the medical test and the doctors getting it wrong most of the time sounds very fishy to me! It sounds like a complete nonsense! A common sense is missing in that explanation. I think what you're insinuating in this example is wrong.

  11. That hospital example was so stupid and wrong… When there is a 90% change the test results are correct, it no longer matters what probability there is for you to have that decease; there's still 90% change for you to have that decease after it's been diagnosed.

  12. I supose all the people who die because of capitalism are not counted in your WORLD BANK graph. It's not violence if it doesn't affect you!!! hahaha you disgust me.

  13. Representative heuristic is prevalent in Learning too. Consider the text below

    "In my own particular case, the biggest single “aha moment” came during the late 1980s, at which point evidence was emerging that learners, during the acquisition of skills and knowledge, were susceptible to interpreting their current performance (and their related subjective experiences, such as a sense of fluency or familiarity) as valid indices of learning, whereas such indices are unreliable measures of learning at best, and sometimes are entirely misleading. That is, there was evidence then, and far more since then, that conditions of study or practice that make performance improve rapidly can fail to support long-term retention and transfer, whereas certain conditions that create difficulties and challenges for the learners (which I came to call “desirable difficulties”; Bjork, 1994) can enhance long-term retention and transfer. That pat- tern of memory and metamemory findings seemed critically important to me because it suggested not only that students and teachers alike were susceptible to choosing (and preferring) poorer conditions of learning over better conditions, but also, more broadly, that we, as learners, tend to have a faulty
    model of learning and memory."

    Robert Bjork has been in learning science for 50 years now. I believe he is applying the concept of representative heuristic to explain why people fail to learn. During the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the condition of study or practice is taken by you to represent(or interpret as index of) actual learning. There was and still is growing evidence that what ever you think you are doing now that you judge as actually learned is misleading/a misrepresentation/misguided. Thus, ineffective study technique (a conditions of study) like rereading is common. Only because it gives you a sense of fluency when actually is a case of representational heuristic where the condition of study only represents actual learning but does not actually correspond to actual learning.

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