Heuristics: Meaning And Types

Heuristics, also known as “Rules of Thumbs” or “mental shortcuts,” are small mental processes that help humans learn new concepts, pass judgment, and solve problems quickly. These processes make problems easier by either consciously or unconsciously ignoring a part of the information coming toward the brain. 

These strategies reduce the decision-making time for people and allow them to function smoothly without stopping to think about the next step. However, despite freeing mind space, heuristics can lead to the individual missing critical information or acting on unfair biases. 

Let us understand heuristics better through their origin and types.

Rubik's cube in a black background


The concept of heuristics was put forward by Nobel prize-winning economist and cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon in the 1950s. Simon suggested that even though people tried to make rational decisions, their judgment was affected by cognitive limitations. 

Decisions based on pure rationale would need a thoughtful evaluation of the pros and cons of every alternative. However, given time limitations, people have to make rapid decisions with whatever information they have at their disposal. Therefore, as a result of such restrictions, people are forced to take mental shortcuts to make sense of their worlds. However, Simon’s research was limited to identifying humans’ limited ability in rational decision-making. 

It was the efforts of two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, in the 1970s whose research introduced the study of heuristics and the several ways of thinking and information processing that people rely on in order to make their decision-making process easier. 

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Now that you have learned the origin and meaning of heuristics, let us understand the different types of mental shortcuts that human minds generally use.

1. Anchoring Type

This type occurs when an individual relies heavily on the first piece of information they learn while making any decision, even if the information is not the most relevant or important. In such cases, anchoring heuristics generally steer people in the wrong direction.

2. Availability Type

This type of mental shortcut occurs when someone estimates the likelihood of a certain event based on how readily or easily the example comes to their mind. This is why people overestimate the occurrence of a plane crash or accident, given such events can be easily remembered. 

3. Satisficing Type

Satisficing is a type of decision-making process where the individual selects the first option that satisfies the required condition, even though better options might exist.

4. Representativeness Type

The representativeness heuristic makes people categorize things and people depending on how similar the two entities are. For instance, a person described to be quiet is more likely to be a writer or librarian than a musician. 

5. Familiarity Type

The familiarity type heuristic refers to the tendency of people to have a rather favorable opinion of the things, places, or people they previously experienced or met rather than the new ones. In fact, in most situations, when provided with two options, people gravitate toward the familiar one.

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Heuristics are mental shortcuts and biases that the human mind consciously or subconsciously uses to simplify the decision-making process. However, despite their efficiency, they can often guide us in the wrong direction. That is why one must take calculative and rational steps to make intelligent and informed decisions. Try thinking through important decisions by reviewing the pros and cons of the available choices. 

Planning and dividing your day in advance can help you in your decision-making process and reduce the stress associated with unplanned events. Explore the ultimate self-care planner here to help you plan your days to perfection. 

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