Heuristics in Social Cognition
By: Jessica Wright
Old Dominion University
Heuristics are a part of everyday life, they help us with what to think, what to do, and what not to do. They assist us to find a solution to difficult problems and situations in everyday life. These heuristics include; representative, available, status quo, and anchor and adjustment.
Representative and availability are among the two most frequently used heuristics used in everyday life. Representative heuristics are commonly used when making a judgment or decision off of something relatively simple or a basic character trait or action. Representative heuristics are often times associated with grouping. When using the representative heuristic humans place individuals into groups based on characteristics or traits that they share generally on a basic level. Similarly, the availability heuristic is also made of a form of assumption. The availability heuristic is the making of decision-based on what comes to mind quickest and easier is generally the thought track we take and commit to. The availability heuristic has a lot to do with previous experiences.
Unlike the previous two heuristics, the anchor and adjustment heuristic as well as the status quo heuristic take a lot more thought and generally have some complex problem solving associated with them. The anchor and adjustment heuristic deals with the unknown or uncertain situations where the decision maker chooses a initial stance (anchor) and then adjusts it with time and pressure from external forces. The status quo heuristic also involves critical thinking because many times humans tend to accept old solutions or way of thoughts as more accurate or foolproof then new ideas.
An example of the representative and availability heuristics are easy to come upon. The representative heuristic is found possibly on the street if you see a sharp dressed man in a suit and assume he is a CEO based on his basic and low-level appearance or traits. This heuristic is how we make many of our judgments about the world around us, specifically the people we come in contact with.
The availability heuristic is that when a parent can’t find their child that parent is much more fearful that their child will be abducted by a stranger because that is the first thing that comes to their mind even if it is something less severe than that.
Anchor and adjustment heuristics, as well as status quo heuristic, also have very relatable real-life examples that many can connect with. An example of an anchor and adjustment heuristic is if you were entering into a competition to guess how many marbles were in a jar to win a prize and many had already guessed before you. You would look at their number and guess something similar because the anchor numbers are given so you adjust the number to be individual.
Status quo heuristics are also seen in everyday life when a new diet emerges, and many are quick to point out the flaws of these new diets when they are older diets that they might even be participating in themselves are dangerous.
When discussing anything in the social sphere incorrect inferences are unfortunate but are common. Many times, in the representative and availability traits being so easy to create they can yield more extreme incorrect inferences. With representative heuristics, many times the base rate or likelihood the result actually occurs can be very different from real life. Going back to the previous example, when You see a sharp dressed man in a suit and assume he is a CEO when really, he is a low-level manager. This occurs because there are more managers then CEOs in the world, so your base rate would be misconstrued. Representative heuristics also yield incorrect inferences such as in the example that a parent is much more fearful that their child will be abducted by a stranger even though the chance of them hiding in a clothes rack is much higher in probability. The incorrect inferences are caused by the overestimation of the likelihood of events that are dramatic but rare because they are easy to bring to mind.
Incorrect inferences are also common in the anchor and adjustment heuristic as well as the status quo heuristic because they require critical thought which under pressure can fail. In the case of anchor and adjustment heuristics, they can become harmful because many times the adjustment we make to these anchors are not close to being enough to yield a fair result. To put this in a real-world concept in the example of guessing how many marbles were in the jar if the original number that was guessed were off then the adjustment made to them when submitting your answer would also be off. Status quo heuristics are also frequently incorrect because many times old practices or objects are not as scrutinized as newer ones, so they are not treated the same. An example, of this, is when the new diet plan emerges, and many are quick to point out the flaws of these diets when they are older diets that they might even be participating in are harmful themselves but because their family has used it for years they are automatically seen as superior.
Many times, heuristics assist us with making decisions as a part of everyday life and are very important and influential, but it is important to remember that there are flaws with the representative, available, status quo, and anchor and adjustment heuristics that must be observed and noted.