Cognitive Heuristics

  • Created by: embarry27
  • Created on: 29-12-19 09:34

Cognitive heuristics

  • Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts that ease the cognitive load of making a decision
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How we *should* vs how we actually evaluate inform

Louise notes:

  • should make a decision that is the most likely to deliver the benefits that we desire. 
  • BUT - this would be too difficult as it is very time consuming and we can't be sure of the outcome
  • most of the time we are 'satisficers' - making adequate inferences and decisions rather than - 
  • 'optimisers' - drawing the best possible inferences and hence reaching the best possible decisions 
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System 1 and 2

Louise notes

  • System 1 is automatic, intuitive, unconscious, effortless 
  • System 2 requires attention and effort - slow, controlled, deliberate, statistical


  • System 2 engages when circumstances require. 
  • As people gain knowledge or expertise, the domains of the two systems change. 
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Applying the 2 systems approach to cognitive heuri

  • sample size matters but we often fail to take account of it 
  • statistics often produce observations that look like they have causal explanations but are instead due to chance....system 1 is the mode of thinking that makes these incorrect causal connections and jumps to (often wrong) conclusions

Some heuristics that highight system 1:

  • representativeness heuristic (a mental shortcut whereby instances are assigned to categories on the basis of how similar they are to the category in general)
  • availability heuristic (people make judgements about the likelihood of an event based on how easily an example, instance, or case comes to mind.
  • adjustment and anchoring (anchoing is when someone starts with a point and makes adjustments to it to reach their estimate)

Why do we make these mistakes?

  • base rate information
  • predictive value (how credible is the source?)
  • small sample size less reliable
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Overcoming tendency to overlook base rates

  • instruct people to 'think like a statistician'
  • instructing people to 'think like a clinician' has the opposite effect
  • frowning increases vigilence which leads to enhanced activation of System 2 and consequently increased use of base rate info
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Availability heuristic

  • cognitive shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person's mind when evaluating specific concept or decision
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Biased estimates can occur for two reasons

  • it's not only about frequency, what about familiarity and salience?
  • our own experiences with things happening frequently might be idiosyncratic

So why do we do it?

- The feeling of difficulty/ease of retrieval (system 1) can matter as much as the absolute numbers (content) (system 2)

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Anchoring heuristic

  • one of the most robust and reliable resulsts in experimental psychology
  • makes us place weight upon anchors and as a result means we may not always adjust sufficiently far from these anchors to provide accurate judgements

So why do we do it?

  • Tversky: deliberate (if insufficent) attempt to adjust from an irrelevant value that provides an anchor: system 2
  • Kahneman: anchoring that occurs by priming: system 1

Argued that both of these are right but it depends...

  • (system 2:) Found that adjustment is effortful (system 2) and under cognitive load, people adjust less. 
  • (system 1:) shown by Mussweiler et al (2000) where anchor primed associated concepts in memroy - 20 degrees as an anchor made it easier to recognise words like sun, and 5 degrees made it easier to recognise words like ski
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