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Availability Heuristic

 

Explanations > Theories > Availability Heuristic

Description | ResearchSo What? | See also | References 

 

Description

We make a judgment based on what we can remember, rather than complete data. In particular, we use this for judging frequency or likelihood of events.

Because we remember recent experiences or reports, then the news has a significant effect on our decisions. After a news feature about a rape case, many women will be more nervous about going out alone at night. We have thus been primed by the news, increasing the accessibility of this information.

Various factors can affect availability. Things which are easier to imagine, for example if they are very vivid makes themselves more available. Things which are uncomfortable to think about can push people into denial, making these thoughts unavailable. This may also be why we can seem egocentric: because our own experiences are more available to us.

Research

Schwartz (1991) asked some people for six examples when they had been assertive (most could think of six). He then asked other people for twelve examples, which few people could think of. He then asked both how assertive they were. The ‘six’ people scored themselves higher because their available data had a greater proportion of being assertive.

So What?

Using it

Make those things which you want the person to use for decision-making (perhaps at a later date) vivid and very easy to bring to mind, for example with repetition and visual language. Make those things that you do not want them to use vague, abstract, complex or uncomfortable.

Defending

When making important decisions, pause and think why you are deciding as you are. Is it because of information you have recently received? Who from? Why did they give it to you?

See also

Ironic Reversal, Network Theory, Recency Effect, Focusing Effect, Memory, Valence Effect, Priming

References

Tversky and Kahneman (1974)

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