What Is Heuristics Psychology?
In the 1950s, a psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, Herbert Simon, found that even though individuals often want to make rational decisions, their cognitive limitations may sway their judgment. Simon hypothesized that to make sense of the world, the human brain develops mental shortcuts that help people make decisions quickly without analyzing all the available information. These mental shortcuts are known as heuristics.
Heuristic is a Greek word that means "to discover." It is a way to solve a problem by considering your personal experiences. However, at times, one's ability to make decisions and solve problems becomes difficult due to internal emotional or mental health challenges. Understanding heuristics in psychology can help you understand when mental health challenges may interrupt your decision-making and problem-solving abilities.
Heuristics in psychology
An example of heuristics in psychology is when a person takes a mental shortcut to decide why they feel they are not as mature as they should be. Rather than examining why they may feel this way, they may read a book on birth order written by an authority in the field. After reading, they may believe they are immature because they were the last in the birth order. However, this conclusion might not be true.
Types of heuristics
There are multiple ways individuals use heuristics. Below are several types considered in psychology:
- Authority Heuristics: Believing someone primarily because they are an authority on the subject
- Affect Heuristics: Making a snap judgment or quick decision based on a first impression
- Rules of Thumb Heuristics: Solving a problem by using a popular approach so that you don't have to do your own research
- Scarcity Heuristics: Using a rare point to make it seem more desirable or valuable
- Familiarity Heuristics: Dealing with a problem by basing it on a similar situation that you are familiar with
- Working Backward: Solving a challenge by working backward in your mind to see how the solution might be found
- Available Heuristics: Judging the situation by using only information available to you
- Contagious Heuristics: Staying away from an object, person, situation, or source because others say that it is unhealthy or harmful
- Absurdity Heuristics: Using an unusual or unique problem-solving strategy because the problem itself is unusual
- An Educated Guess: Solving a problem by using acquired experience and knowledge
- Consistency Heuristics: Responding to a challenge in a way consistent with your typical way of responding to similar situations
Heuristics in action
Heuristics can allow people to solve problems and make decisions quickly. For instance, as an experienced driver, you may have learned to stop at a stop sign so you don't hit other people or get a ticket. The reasons why people use heuristics and how they choose the correct type of heuristics are complex and depend on the situation. Below are a few examples.
Some experts believe that heuristics can lead to bias. For example, if you use a familiarity heuristic, the rule of thumb, or consistency heuristic, you may jump to conclusions instead of giving the decision further thought. Decisions based on a person's beliefs or experiences may be safer. When you decide based on your prior knowledge or what you believe to be true, you may know more about the potential outcomes.
In some cases, heuristics are efficient and useful rules that can help you decide based on positive judgment. However, in other cases, you may want to do further research to make a proper decision. When you are facing a complicated matter, it may be healthier to take some time to consider all angles of the situation before deciding. Making a judgment call in uncertain situations without a clear perspective can lead to a biased decision.
Affect heuristics or jumping to a conclusion
People may make decisions based on their cognitive limits, time constraints, and the available information they have at the time. In addition, some people may value making the quickest decision to reduce their time to deal with a challenge. An affect heuristic is often called a snap decision or jumping to conclusions. Although these decisions can sometimes work out, they may also cause bumps along the way, as enough planning may not have gone into the potential outcome, even if it is positive.
How are heuristics used in everyday life?
People use everyday heuristics to quickly resolve problems and make decisions using practical solutions. Heuristics allow people to formulate short-term solutions, speed up decision-making, and consider mental shortcuts to make problem-solving easier. You can use heuristics in everyday life by considering your prior knowledge and experience before passing judgment or deciding. You can also use heuristics to learn and expand your understanding of the world.
When the choice must be made right away, you may choose to make an educated guess or use an availability heuristic. For example, you can use the contagion heuristic by throwing out eggs when you hear that they were recalled due to public sickness. In addition, you might bring a raincoat and umbrella to work when the weather report indicates a rainstorm is imminent, as you know you're uncomfortable when you don't.
Sometimes, the strategies people use to solve problems and make decisions become clouded by internal emotional challenges or mental health conditions. In these cases, it can be beneficial to talk to a professional to determine whether your strategies are helping or harming you. Cognitive difficulty with memory, mental clarity, and decision-making can indicate a medical or mental health condition.
What mental illnesses interfere with decision-making?
Difficulty making decisions can be a sign of a mental health condition like borderline personality disorder (BPD), depression, or anxiety, among others. Human emotions are a central component of a person's internal state and can influence one's ability to make decisions. If you are overwhelmed by your emotions, you might struggle to tap into the parts of your brain that draw logical conclusions. In addition, if you've been through a traumatic event, your learned experiences may have taught you that many situations are unsafe, causing you to react as though all scenarios are unsafe.
Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common mental illnesses worldwide. Globally, anxiety and depression rates have increased by 25% since 2020. This number accounts for 76.2 million more cases of anxiety disorders and 49.4 million cases of depressive disorders, on top of the hundreds of millions already in existence. To understand how anxiety and depression impact the mind, examining their symptoms in more depth can be helpful.
Signs of a depressive disorder
Depressive disorders like major depressive disorder (MDD) can cause overwhelming sadness. Other signs of depression can include the following:
- Feelings of sadness that persist for over two weeks
- Sleeping more or less than normal
- Difficulty concentrating
- Chronic fatigue
- Eating more or less than usual
- Isolation or social withdrawal
- A lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- A feeling of being lost or alone
- Thoughts of death or suicide
This list of symptoms is not all-inclusive. However, if you notice that you are experiencing these symptoms, it can be beneficial to seek professional therapeutic support.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
Signs of an anxiety disorder
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 19.1% of adults had an anxiety disorder in the past year, and approximately 31.1% of adults in the United States have experienced an anxiety disorder. Signs of an anxiety disorder can include the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Avoidance of certain places or people
- Irritability or aggression
- Stress or extreme worry
- Constant worrying
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Heart palpitations
- Twitchiness or shaking
- Nausea or vomiting
- Restlessness or feeling "on edge"
- Tense muscles
Heuristics psychology explores the human brain's different strategies to make sense of the world. However, one's ability to make decisions and solve problems can be perceived as difficult when one lives with an anxiety disorder or depression. In these cases, talking to a professional may be advantageous.
Some people might not seek help because they fear it will be difficult or impossible. Anxiety symptoms can make it scary to leave home, and depression can make it difficult to get out of bed. However, with an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you may be able to connect with a counselor from home. Working with a provider online allows you to choose between phone, video, or chat sessions and select a session time whenever is convenient for you.
Research also supports the efficacy of online therapy, showing it can be equally as effective as in-person therapy for those living with depression.
What is the Heuristic theory in psychology?
Heuristics are mental strategies people rely on to make decisions. There are various types of heuristics, each potentially involving cognitive bias due to the individual’s past experiences, temperament, personality, and other factors. Heuristics are often considered “mental shortcuts” to help individuals reach a decision quickly without having to research, analyze decisions, or partake in rational decision-making. However, heuristics may sometimes lead to irrational choices because human judgment can be biased and flawed.
What are some examples of Heuristics?
There are several types of heuristics people may use. One of the most common is the recognition heuristic, sometimes called the familiarity heuristic. In this heuristic, someone makes a decision based on which option is most familiar or comfortable to them. An example of the recognition heuristic is someone using their past experiences with a friend to believe that their friend is telling the truth in a situation where they must decide which person is lying between their friend and a stranger.
What is an example of affect Heuristics in real life?
The affect heuristic occurs when people rely on emotions or feelings to make a choice. This decision is often made so quickly that it seems like a random process. However, it may be based on cognitive biases one has about the supposed mental effort or emotional impact each option has.
A real-life example is a person deciding what school to attend based on which school their partner attends. If a person chooses a school primarily to be close to their partner, they may be following their heart instead of making rational choices about which school offers the best education for their future. Human beings commonly use the affect heuristic because cognitive biases can easily cloud human judgment.
What is a Heuristic bias?
Heuristic bias is a cognitive bias that occurs without much mental effort. Brains rely on various processes to make a decision, sometimes taking more effort than one wants to spend on a situation. A cognitive bias can occur when heuristics cause someone to make the wrong decision or make a decision that hurts themselves or others based on their past experiences, behavioral economics, or anchoring and adjustment processes. To make rational choices not based on bias, spending time considering your decisions can be crucial. A pros and cons chart is one way to make a decision not based on cognitive biases.
How might Heuristics be helpful in daily life?
Heuristics may sometimes be helpful if you need to make a quick decision and don’t have time to consider it in the long term. For example, you might use the scarcity heuristic to decide to purchase two international import items in the store instead of one because you know they may run out soon.
What are the most used Heuristics?
The most popular heuristics include the scarcity heuristic, familiarity heuristic, and representativeness heuristic. The representativeness heuristic occurs when one makes a decision based on past experiences without analyzing them or using bounded rationality or anchoring and adjustment techniques to decide. For example, someone might use this heuristic when they avoid trying to make new friends because they haven’t had success in the past. They may not be consciously choosing every day not to meet new friends but instead living their life that way because it’s familiar to them. This example combines familiarity and representativeness heuristics.
How do Heuristics influence our decisions?
Heuristics can influence decisions by causing people to be more likely to consider what is familiar, expected, or scarce, among other desirable traits. Humans developed heuristics as rational actors to guide daily decisions and leave more space for more complex decisions in other areas of life. In some cases, they may be a protective mechanism not to have to consider difficult options that one is not ready to face. For example, someone might use heuristics instead of taking a chance on a new person or opportunity.
How do you use Heuristics in problem-solving?
There are a few problem-solving heuristics you can use to come to a conclusion, including but not limited to the following:
- Ask someone else for support in making a decision
- Restate the problem to understand it better
- Guess the most logical conclusion
- Look for patterns in the problem
- Act out potential solutions
- Work backward for a solution in your mind
In addition to these strategies, you can avoid biased heuristics by researching how other people have addressed this problem, checking for hidden assumptions you might be making, and combining your own techniques with the techniques of others.
What types of problems can be solved by Heuristics?
It may be beneficial to use heuristics to make decisions when you’re in a situation that requires speed to make a decision, such as when shopping, cooking, or estimating the possibility of success. People often use common sense heuristics in daily life, such as using an umbrella when the news anchor says it will rain or you notice it’s cloudy outside.
When should Heuristics be used?
You can use heuristics in any situation that requires a quick decision, such as deciding what to eat for the day or which friend group to hang out with after work. Heuristics can help avoid overthinking or over-rationalizing a situation. For example, if you spend an hour overanalyzing whether you should eat Cheetos or Doritos, it wouldn’t align with the seriousness of the decision and could delay your overall day or keep you from making more important decisions.
- Previous Article
- Next Article