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Representativeness Heuristic

 

Explanations > Theories > Representativeness Heuristic

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

People tend to judge the probability of an event by finding a ‘comparable known’ event and assuming that the probabilities will be similar.

As a part of creating meaning from what we experience, we need to classify things. If something does not fit exactly into a known category, we will approximate with the nearest class available.

Overall, the primary fallacy is in assuming that similarity in one aspect leads to similarity in other aspects.

The gambler’s fallacy, the belief in runs of good and bad luck can be explained by the representativeness heuristic.

People will also ‘force’ statistical arrangements to represent their beliefs about them, for example a set of random numbers will be carefully mixed up so no similar numbers are near one another.

We will also tend to ignore base rates (the relative frequency with which an event occurs) as well as regression towards the mean (where an extreme value is likely to be followed by one which is much closer to the mean).

The law of small numbers is the assumption people make that a small sample is representative of a much larger population.  

Example

If I meet someone with a laid back attitude and long hair, I might assume they are Californian, whereas someone who is very polite but rigid may be assumed to be English.

People will often assume that a random sequence in a lottery is more likely than a arithmetic sequence of numbers.

If I meet three people from a company and they are all aggressive, I will assume that the company has an aggressive culture and that most other people from that firm will also be aggressive.

So what?

Using it

To make something attractive, take something that the other person finds attractive and then find a way in which they are both similar. Even putting them together in time or space can do the trick.

Defending

Watch out for seemingly irrelevant things that the other person brings up, and how these might affect your decision on more significant items. Also learn more about statistics.

See also

Availability Heuristic, Conjunction Fallacy, Gambler's Fallacy

References

Tversky and Kahneman (1974), Kahneman and Tversky (1982)

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