Salient events are easier to remember, so we give them more importance in our decisions. Psychologists call this simple fact “the Availability heuristic”, which is a cognitive bias.
Remember that cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that help us survive in a dangerous world, but they fool us in a complicated one. When you see a lion in the Serengeti, you need to run without thinking. But when you decide to buy a car, it would be better to avoid running to buy the one you see frequently in the ads and think thoroughly before making the decision.
Examples of the Availability Heuristic
Salient memories from one’s experience will impact its future decision, when searching for a job, a neighborhood, a partner, a vacation destination, etc. We focus on that specific event and forget about the rest. We make a poor decision, and we often regret it.
Plane crashes are so rare that everyone knows about them when they happen. Yet they seem to horrify people much more than car accidents, which cause many more victims… Sharks, Tsunamis, Terrorist attacks, etc. These are a salient cause of death, but they have, by far, the least number of victims compared to car accidents or medical errors.
The media are an enormous « availability bias » machine. Journalists and reporters are both victims and contributors to this social phenomenon. A journalist that reports “a plane departing from Berlin had landed safely in CDG airport this afternoon” will most probably lose his job. Continue reading “Outsmart the Availability Heuristic”→
Do you think you are rational? Are you sure that you often make the best decision? Do you feel that your reasoning is superior to that of others? Do you regret some acts and wish you had thought more before committing them? You are, like all human beings, a victim of your cognitive biases.
What is cognitive bias?
Cognition is the mental process of understanding and acquiring knowledge. Cognitive bias is an unconscious cognitive process in human psychology that makes us prone to errors in our reasoning and judgment. It is the gap between rational thinking and our actual way of thinking.
There exists a lot of biases that affect our interaction with the world; we seek pattern in everything even if there is none, we confuse correlation with causality, we hire people who are similar to us, we don’t react the same way to the same information if framed differently, we don’t understand why the opposite side don’t see the ‘truth’, we overestimate our knowledge, etc.
Cognitive biases are an important cause of many catastrophes and tragedies in business, politics, relationships and everyday life. Outsmarting our cognitive biases is key to good decision making and critical thinking.
A New Blog Post Series “Outsmart your Biases”
Outsmart your biases is a forthcoming series of posts that will discuss some of the major cognitive biases, illustrated with examples; the confirmation bias, the availability heuristic, the Dunning-Kruger effect, the planning fallacy, the halo effect and more. In this series, you will find mental tricks and processes that you can use to outsmart these biases and become a better decision-maker. Stay tuned!