Heuristic definition

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Individuals rely on rules of thumb (heuristics) to lessen the information processing demands of making decisions. Heuristics reduce the effort people must put into making decisions by allowing them to examine fewer pieces of information, simplify the weights of information, process less information and consider fewer alternatives in making decisions.

Heuristics may assist us in making producing effective decisions, but it can also lead to systematically biased judgements. When individuals inappropriately apply heuristics, they result in biases. Even most intelligent people are suspect able to biases that result from inappropriate use of heuristics.

Integration and commentary

More than one heuristic can operate on our decision making processes at any given time. Reliance on heuristics is wise when the loss in decision making quality is outweigh by time saved. Such “shortcuts” often lead to adequate decisions.

However, blanket acceptance is unwise. In many instances loss in decision quality outweighs  the time saved by heuristics. Reliance on heuristics suggest that we voluntarily accept trade offs on quality when we decide to employ heuristics. We fail to distinguish between situations in which heuristics are beneficial and potentially harmful.

Our minds are wired to make reliance on heuristics as natural and comfortable processes. For example: availability heuristics is a natural function of the selectiveness of human memory. We are better at remembering information that is interesting, emotionally arousing or recently acquired.

Nevertheless, when the stakes are high and decision quality is important, it is worth engaging in more effortful thought processes that can avoid biases. We must learn to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate use of heuristics.

Adapted from

Bazerman, M.H. and Moore, D.A., 1994. Judgment in managerial decision making (p. 226). New York: Wiley.

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