Heuristics: The Adaptive Toolbox of Humans
As we are faced with certain situations where decisions must be made, we thoroughly think through all the pros and cons. However, sometimes we are short on time, thus we must react quickly to the knowledge that is available at hand. Accordingly, system 1 or system 2, which the brain uses to process information, are activated depending on the available time frame. System 1 functions quickly and automatically with bare effort and is in general uncontrollable by us. System 2 functions slowly and evokes our analytical reasoning, it will filter out unreasonable automatic instincts to lead you to the best choice.
From a biological perspective, our survival instincts come before thinking through the rational decision-making strategy, therefore, system 1 is always at the front. Since system 1 is fast and automatic it tends to make shortcuts, during which a certain part of the information is left aside when making a decision. These shortcuts are called heuristics, it saves mental energy of system 2 and is often used to solve a variety of decision problems involving choice, categorization, estimation, elimination and more. Sometimes it is also referred to as intuition, gut feeling, ‘rule-of-thumb’, or common sense. Here are a few most common heuristics:
It describes our tendency to utilize the information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions about the future. One single moment that happened to you in the past could influence your decision. For example, you went to a job interview, and the interviewers seemed quite disrespectful, you will likely opt-out from applying to their open positions for the next time.
It involves making a decision by comparing the situation at hand with the most representative mental example. Let’s say you meet a new person, who reminds you of your good old friend, you will immediately consider that he or she is kind and trustworthy.
It encompasses present emotions, which highly influence our choices. The researchers have shown that the more positive we are about a decision, the more likely we are to think that it will bring high benefit and low risk. Whereas, if we feel sad, we will most likely think about the downsides only.
Psychologists have found that people tend to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information they learn which immediately influences their decisions. Think about flying and driving. According to statistics flying is the safest mode of transportation. Whereas the chance of ending up in an accident when driving is higher. Yet, we take our rides daily without any fear, but sit and mumble small prayers once inside of an airplane.
Overall, there are some negative sides of heuristics, as it reduces mental effort and accuracy. It could also lead to prejudice. If we only would use mental shortcuts to classify people, we would miss the most important information and create stereotypes that would start stigmatizing society. Of course, we could agree that not all decisions from our day-to-day activities should be based on rational thinking, however, it is evident that heuristics are considered a provoking source of judgmental errors. Our advice would be to take a little more time to reach a certain decision, allow system 2 to activate, and evaluate your choices thoroughly.
#1 // Create a pros and cons list
When faced with uncertainty, do not be afraid to take a piece of paper and write down all that you think about a certain issue. Seeing the drawbacks and advantages physically would help you to see which decision would be the most appealing.
#2 // Activate your system 2
Activate your brain by engaging in logical thinking involved activities to increase your critical thinking. Reading is one of those beneficial brain exercises, here is a book about systems 1 and 2: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11468377-thinking-fast-and-slow.
#3 // Get enough sleep
Do not let your emotions get in your way of decision-making, make sure to rest enough. Here’s the reason why: https://hbr.org/2020/09/why-you-should-choose-sleep-over-work.
4# // Ask for help
Some decisions may be hard to make alone, and you may not see the entire picture clearly. Take a step further and analyze the tough decisions with a professional in the Mindletic app to gain some extra clarity. Choose the topic of interest and book a meeting now.