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Heuristics: The Adaptive Toolbox of Humans

Abstract visual of circles, heuristics as the adaptive toolbox of humans. Mindletic blog

As we are faced with certain situations where decisions must be made, we thoroughly think  through all the pros and cons. However, sometimes we are short on time, thus we must react  quickly to the knowledge that is available at hand. Accordingly, system 1 or system 2, which the  brain uses to process information, are activated depending on the available time frame. System 1  functions quickly and automatically with bare effort and is in general uncontrollable by us. System  2 functions slowly and evokes our analytical reasoning, it will filter out unreasonable automatic  instincts to lead you to the best choice.

From a biological perspective, our survival instincts come before thinking through the rational  decision-making strategy, therefore, system 1 is always at the front. Since system 1 is fast and  automatic it tends to make shortcuts, during which a certain part of the information is left aside  when making a decision. These shortcuts are called heuristics, it saves mental energy of system 2  and is often used to solve a variety of decision problems involving choice, categorization,  estimation, elimination and more. Sometimes it is also referred to as intuition, gut feeling,  ‘rule-of-thumb’, or common sense.

Most common heuristics

.Availability heuristic 

It describes our tendency to utilize the information that comes to mind quickly and easily when  making decisions about the future. One single moment that happened to you in the past could  influence your decision. For example, you went to a job interview, and the interviewers seemed quite  disrespectful, you will likely opt-out from applying to their open positions for the next time. 

.Representativeness heuristic 

It involves making a decision by comparing the situation at hand with the most representative  mental example. Let’s say you meet a new person, who reminds you of your good old friend, you will  immediately consider that he or she is kind and trustworthy. 

.Affect heuristic 

It encompasses present emotions, which highly influence our choices. The researchers have shown  that the more positive we are about a decision, the more likely we are to think that it will bring high  benefit and low risk. Whereas, if we feel sad, we will most likely think about the downsides only. 

.Anchoring heuristics 

Psychologists have found that people tend to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information  they learn which immediately influences their decisions. Think about flying and driving. According  to statistics flying is the safest mode of transportation. Whereas the chance of ending up in an  accident when driving is higher. Yet, we take our rides daily without any fear, but sit and mumble  small prayers once inside of an airplane.

Overall, there are some negative sides of heuristics, as it reduces mental effort and accuracy. It  could also lead to prejudice. If we only would use mental shortcuts to classify people, we would  miss the most important information and create stereotypes that would start stigmatizing society.  Of course, we could agree that not all decisions from our day-to-day activities should be based on  rational thinking, however, it is evident that heuristics are considered a provoking source of  judgmental errors. Our advice would be to take a little more time to reach a certain decision, allow  system 2 to activate, and evaluate your choices thoroughly.

Exercises for practicing heuristics

#1 // Create a pros and cons list

When faced with uncertainty, do not be afraid to take a piece of paper and write down all that you think about a certain issue. Seeing the drawbacks and advantages physically would help you to see which decision would be the most appealing.

#2 // Activate your system 2

Activate your brain by engaging in logical thinking involved activities to increase your critical thinking. Reading is one of those beneficial brain exercises, here is a book about systems 1 and 2: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11468377-thinking-fast-and-slow.

#3 // Get enough sleep

Do not let your emotions get in your way of decision-making, make sure to rest enough. Here’s the reason why: https://hbr.org/2020/09/why-you-should-choose-sleep-over-work.

4# // Ask for help

Some decisions may be hard to make alone, and you may not see the entire picture clearly. Take a step further and analyze the tough decisions with a professional in the Mindletic app to gain some extra clarity. Choose the topic of interest and book a meeting now.