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how to avoid availability heuristic

If not, make your decision slowly and carefully—or better yet, go find some experts to lend a hand. Moreover, when you’re making decisions on behalf of others, you have a responsibility to get it right. At the same time, we should acknowledge that even though our frequency isn’t perfect, it’s actually not too bad, either. People spend more time looking at photos depicting negative events than photos depicting positive events, which indicates people pay more attention to bad events than good events when forming an overall impression. If I’m an assertive person, it should be easy for me to come up with a bunch of examples of assertive behavior. The way it does this is by taking mental shortcuts that are reliable most of the time, but not all of the time. Availability Heuristic . If I ask you how often you brushed your teeth in the last month, you can do the math: twice per day multiplied by thirty days is sixty brushings. This rate holds whether there’s a natural disaster or not. People in power (or who feel powerful) are more likely to rely on ease-of-recall when making a decision. And how much does easiness contribute to your recall? But as it becomes harder to remember a flood, it will begin to seem floods don’t occur very often after all. Those who gave seven reasons to use public transportation reported more negative views of public transportation than those who gave three reasons.[22]. Most people assume the response would be yes. These shortcuts are called heuristics. The availability heuristic, like any heuristic, is, by definition, a shortcut. [38] Raghubir, P. & Menon, G. (2005). Z. Locke and F. K. Goodwin: 1993, “Epidemiologic Catchment Area Prospective 1-Year Prevalence Rates of Disorders and Services,” Archives of General Psychiatry 50(2), 85–94. The likelihood of this happening again was low but we were unrealistically inflating the problem due to the availability heuristic. During 2006, the number of policies grew 14.3%—more than three-fold the norm.[3]. The same study found when people have more offline interactions with their friends, they are less likely to believe their friends have better lives and are happier than they are. The answers to all of these questions are knowable and accessible. [26] (Think of correlation on a scale of -1 to 1, with 1 being perfect correlation.). Some of these people were forced to drive because U.S. airspace was closed for three days after the attacks. [34] Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., &Vohs, K. (2001). When it’s easy to come up with a list of assertive behavior–i.e. The availability heuristic simply refers to a specific mental shortcut: what comes to mind the easiest—what’s most available—is true. A time measurement (our team use ‘* = ‘<1hour’, ** = ‘1-3hours’, *** = ‘>3hours’). (2006). In the most basic terms, heuristics are a The second group was asked to give ten (not two) instances.[38]. [26] Attneave, F. (1953). As a result, an additional 2,170 people who would have otherwise flown lost their lives in car accidents. “When and why is ease of retrieval informative?” Memory and Cognition 33(5), pp.821–832. Were you just promoted? [4], The same phenomenon occurred after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Does the letter k occur more often at the beginning of a word or as the third letter? [23] Fox, C.R. Options and information that is framed this way are favored over those that aren’t. You get the wrong impression, because pictures of people on the beach have a disproportionate influence on your perception of how everyone else is spending spring break. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Let’s move now to the next point, which is about how to overcome availability bias. “Positive-Negative Asymmetry in Evaluations: The Distinction Between Affective and Informational Negativity Effects.” European Review of Social Psychology 1(1). (1997). The Pollyanna Principle: Selectivity in language, memory, and thought. People were asked to recall the Oklahoma City bombing. The lesson? Consider the controversy in 2001 over how much arsenic should be allowed in drinking water. Next, let’s extend beyond thought exercises and enter the real world. Before shooting down the … Avoiding Availability Bias. We make hundreds of mistakes like this on a daily basis, mistakes than can be attributed to mental biases or cognitive errors. But when they were asked to produce many reasons why their car wouldn’t start, they found it difficult. There are also some excellent side effects: This is our experience with the Waste Snake. (1990). At 10 parts per billion, it’s 1 in 500. For these kinds of events, you’re more likely to use availability data than frequency data. In the experiment that proved this, people’s perception of how assertive they perceived themselves was directly correlated with how difficult it was to think of examples of assertive behavior.[19]. There are more lawyers than tailors in your town. (This is the same underlying mechanism that makes infrequent bicyclists believe they ride their bikes a lot. But offline, real-world interactions with your friends contain no such selection bias. [42] Ofir, C. (2000). With betting however it is important to think in long-term patterns , and ignore short-term form to a certain degree. In their new book, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein provide insight into why investors make certain choices. Version 1: “When you drink don’t drive; you have one chance in 1,000,000 of getting into a fatal car crash, a much higher probability than most people believe.”. Next, each group was asked to estimate on a scale of 1 to 7 how often they ate out. Now suppose I ask you how often you drove in the last month. But since you can’t do both, your brain is forced to optimize between efficiency and accuracy. Those who thought of only a few examples believed they rode frequently. After all, you’ve got this giant list of examples of your assertive paper right in front of you. If you’ve just received great news that puts you in a good mood, avoid making a big decision. What you might not realize is other dangers lurk at the beach. The first is to be aware of—and avoid—the conditions that make you more likely to rely on the availability heuristic. What predicts divorce? To avoid the trap of the availability heuristic, consider the following tips: Do your research, seek facts, numbers, statistics. Now let’s say you’re evaluating travel options for a flight to someplace warm. Were you just promoted? A heuristicis a word from the Greek meaning “to discover.” It is an approach to problem solving that takes one’s personal experience into account. Your brain has categorized people and things into different buckets based on various features. The first group was asked to give two instances when they ate out at a sit-down restaurant and two instances when they at a fast food restaurant in the previous four months. If you were an assertive person, it would be easy to think of examples of your assertiveness. If they added up the waste they would see that the slow kettle was a real problem and there was probably a simple solution. “Overreaction to fearsome risks.” Environmental and Resource Economics, vol. It’s easy for anyone to think of two things, expert or not. People who were asked to recall two instances of eating out in the past four months reported roughly the same subjective frequency as the people who were asked to recall ten instances (5 vs. 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 7). Then, each group was split again. If I asked you, the assertive person, holding a list of examples of assertive behavior, if you really are an assertive person, you would be more likely to say no. However, while heuristics … After one year, 73.2% of flood insurance policies are still in place. Researchers have found that when you are in a positive emotional state, you are more likely to perceive an activity as having high benefits and low risks.3 2. People also thought tornados killed more people than asthma attacks, even though asthma attacks kill 20 times more people than tornadoes every year. It’s not the actual arguments that make people disagree, it’s the fact that producing them is hard. You rely on the ease with which something comes to mind instead of the content of what comes to mind when making a decision. To avoid the availability heuristic, acknowledge that your memory may not always serve you best. M. Bar-Hillel, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2001. No matter what you think about climate change, when it’s hot out, people blame global warming. The problem with the second is that it’s easier to come up with some kinds of stories than others. In one study, participants were given lists of 15 words and later asked to recall them. [30] Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., &Vohs, K. (2001). The Availability Heuristic describes the inferences we make about even commonness based on the ease with which we can remember instances of that event… While this example of vividness may seem fairly benign, it is not difficult to see how the availability bias could lead managers to make potentially destructive workplace decisions. If there hasn’t been a flood in awhile, you’re likely to let your insurance lapse. So far, we have shown how the availability heuristic is the shortcut that confuses easy with true. Recalling two events in the recent past is much easier than recalling ten events in the recent past, so people who recall two events think they eat out a lot, while people who recall ten events think they rarely eat out because the former is easy and the latter is hard. If you can’t think of a single Spanish matador, then you won’t be subject to the bias. An example would be the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. What you won’t see is that most of your friends are stuck in Michigan, just like you are. For water districts with 500 households, the costs rose to $163 each. In a study, students were asked how much they would be willing to pay to avoid all risk of arsenic in drinking water. They cause the most harm when you’re required to make judgments or predictions for low probability, extreme outcomes. [2] Barass, P. (1984). When a company issues a product recall, investors sell their stock, driving the share price down. The representativeness heuristic is the tendency to make an instant decision based on readily available attributes such as looks, behavior, or current known facts. [44] Weick, M. & Guinote, A. New York, NY: Viking. 3, pp. Every day I spend time boiling the kettle – it takes me 10 minutes because the kettle is very old. When we estimate a date, an important clue is how easy to remember something happened: if it’s easy to remember, it must have happened recently. That’s because the product category—not just a single company’s product recall—becomes more available in the mind of both consumers who buy that kind of product and in the minds of investors who buy the company’s stock.[14]. In another one of Tversky and Kahneman’s thought experiments, they asked people to guess the likelihood of an imaginary couple getting a divorce. If you’re an instructor and you want your students to give you a positive rating, ask them for so much negative feedback that they have a hard time thinking of more. People experience more positive things than negative things. Negative events leave a stronger impression and are easier to remember. Lets look back at our availability heuristic example. Police officers are often killed in the pursuit of criminals and this is typically viewed as a heroic act, which means it becomes a human interest story a… People who were not distracted remembered 9.44 of the 15 words, and it took them 420 milliseconds to retrieve each word from memory. Diverging inferences from Real Life Examples of the Availability Heuristic. (1994). “How to dispel your illusions.” New York Review of Books. . [46] Pinker, S. (2018). In Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Pinker’s follow-up to Better Angels, Pinker writes: “It’s easy to see how the Availability heuristic, stoked by the news policy, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ could induce a sense of gloom about the state of the world. People represent themselves positively on Facebook. “Policy Tenure Under the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).” Risk Analysis, Vol. [24] Wanke, M., Bohner, G., & Jurkowitsch, A. [6] Gallagher (2014). You owe it to yourself and to others to avoid making decisions informed by how easy it is to call to mind relevant factors for making those decisions. Pause, think, don’t make a “now or never” kind of decision. We are biased toward what’s most available to us. Version 2: an image of a car wrapped around a tree accompanied by a statement by the grieving family not to drink and drive. I’m not saying that this is a replacement for a retrospective but it can help us avoid this problem and weed out the waste that we don’t think of in our retrospectives. We’ve seen that a variety of factors make something easier to recall: frequent, extreme, negative, recent, and vivid events come to mind easily, which means they have an outsized influence on your judgments and decisions. Others decided to avoid the hassle of extra security at the airports. Now, suppose, after you made this list, I asked you whether you thought you were an assertive person. Seek … (I’ve avoided flying through Minneapolis this year for the sole reason that I spent last Christmas Eve there, and I don’t want to repeat that experience. 24. But that’s not the case. When they recalled two details from the bombing (easy! Death-by-shark-attack is a vivid, gruesome, scary way to die. [42] It was more difficult for mechanics to diagnose a problem with the car than non-expert drivers. The median length of a flood insurance policy is between two and four years. Your brain needs to process more data than it can handle. Two psychologists have found that people who have more than the average number of Facebook friends rely on the availability heuristic when they compare themselves to their friends, and as a result, they believe their friends are happier and have better lives than they do. “Psychological probability as a function of experienced frequency.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 46 (2):81. The world is a safer, more peaceful place than it ever has been. . “Ease of Recall vs Recalled Evidence in Judgment: Experts vs Laymen.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 81(1), 28–42. You need to make decisions quickly and correctly. And those experiences—not the dozens of times you’ve connected without incident—will have an outsized influence on where you decide to fly next. So how much of your emotionsmight influence your decision-making and what impact might it have on your life? Happy or sad, thinking of ten arguments is more difficult. For this reason, if we’re trying to judge whether something is likely to happen (to make a risk assessment) if a similar event has occurred recently and/or past instances induced strong emotions that made their occurrence more memorable, we’re much more likely to predict that the event is likely to occ… In an experiment, researchers split people into two groups. Let’s use this as our working definition of the availability heuristic: The availability heuristic is a shortcut that confuses easy with true when you make a decision. Erlbaum. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar things happening in the future. [20], Be careful when you’re trying to persuade someone to take your position, buy your product, or support your argument. People who have compiled extensive evidence of their assertive behavior should believe they, themselves, are assertive. (1978). [23], What’s even more strange is that it’s simply enough to expect thinking of examples to be difficult. This: the events, memories, experiences, topics, and ideas that come to mind most easily are believed to be the truest. [43] Schwarz, N., Bless, H., Wänke, M., & Winkielman, P (2003). Or, did they perceive themselves as the kind of people who ate out a lot? Note: This is a part of the series “Outsmart Your Biases“. 1. Grab a writing implement and a post-it. ratings.” Judgment and Decision Making, 1, 86-90. Easy equals true. But when you’re not an expert, you’ll have a limited number of available instances, which will make recall more difficult. But when people were asked about the previous spring—the more distant past—there was no difference. Even though negative events have an outsized impact as they are experienced, they have a diminished impact as they are remembered. Recall took 34.7% longer and accuracy fell by 12.9%. He caved to the public outcry and reversed his decision, returning the standard acceptable rate of arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per billion. [24], Ease of recall can override other inputs, like recency. Iowa produces more corn than Wyoming. We did not recall the problem with the slow kettle as this was not the most readily available in our minds whereas the disaster of the tea bags was. Second, you’ll put together a story or scenario that may lead to divorce—something she said, something he did. In the second part of the experiment, researchers assembled two groups and asked the same set of questions. This alone will limit availability bias because people will challenge one another’s thinking naturally. You’ll probably start by doing one of two things: First, you’ll scan your memory of similar couples, perhaps thinking of couples with similar personalities or couples who have the same number of children. Three psychologists asked people to evaluate experiences they had both immediately after they occurred, and again at intervals of 3 months, 1 year, and 4 and a half years. But recalling two events in the distant past is barely easier than recalling ten events in the distant past, which means the easy-it-true bias doesn’t have the same effect. Your mood is a significant predictor of whether ease-of-recall will affect your judgment. Managers who recalled two moments of leisure time indicated greater satisfaction than managers who recalled ten moments of leisure time (4.95 vs. 3.82). However, statistics show that you are as much as 10x more likely to meet your end while working on a fishing boat . You buy life insurance, medical insurance, homeowners insurance, flood insurance, or earthquake insurance because there’s a small chance you’ll need it. Much of what’s found on TV news is negative, extreme, and low probability—and this distorts your view of the world. As we’ve seen, ease-of-recall can override the actual content of what you’re recalling when you’re making judgment. In neither actual—comparing this couple to other couples, and coming up with a story—are you using actual data to make your prediction. If it’s easy to remember a flood, you’ll buy insurance, because it seems floods occur rather often. Because easy equals true and hard equals false, the difficulty of thinking of negative feedback will cause students to discount the actual content of the negative feedback. It’s part of human nature. In the words Norbert Schwarz and his colleagues: “Not being able to name famous Spanish matadors, for example, doesn’t imply there aren’t any; it only implies one doesn’t know them.”[43]. 3, pp. When you scroll through your newsfeed, you only see others’ positive representations of themselves. They also strike at random: you can see a shark coming, but it’s impossible to predict when a coconut might fall. But if you’re a sad, focused expert in a submissive role, then you are more likely to rely solely on frequency data when making decisions. When you are trying to make a decision, a number of related events or situations might immediately spring to the forefront of your thoughts. Then, arm yourself with credible information. when you’re multitasking instead of focused. This indicates that recency affects ease of recall. [18] Chou, H. and Edge, N. (2012), “‘They are happier and having better lives than I am’: The impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 15(2) 117-121.

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