But when you have a bad day, your negative mood carries over into the next day. & Schwarz, N. (2005). Death-by-shark-attack is a vivid, gruesome, scary way to die. If you’re a non-expert, then you’ll rely on ease-of-recall if you possess just enough knowledge in a domain to retrieve information in your memory about it. “Injuries due to falling coconuts.” The Journal of Trauma 24(11):990-1. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 68% of people say there is more crime this year than last year and that crime is getting worse. Explanations > Theories > Availability Heuristic. The response was universally critical. It has everything to do with how easy or hard it is to generate those examples. Insurance protects you from the slight chance of a massive loss. The availability heuristic causes us to incorrectly assess probability in practical, everyday situations as well. Break the ice and try to avoid any such stereotype in the resume you submit or the conversation you make. [37] Walker, W., Vogl, R., & Thompson, C. (1997). In the words Norbert Schwarz and his colleagues: “Not being able to name famous Spanish matadors, for example, doesn’t imply there aren’t any; it only implies one doesn’t know them.”[43]. This trend—the belief that violence is increasing, even as the world becomes safer—is covered in exhausting detail by Steven Pinker in his excellent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In a twisted way, being happy makes us more susceptible to the ease-of-recall bias, and this bias predisposes us to recall negative events over positive events—which changes our mood from happy to sad. But by the tenth year, the number of insurance policies returns to the normal, predicted amount. If you’ve just received great news that puts you in a good mood, avoid making a big decision. When it comes to aligning your brand with the availability heuristic, there are steps you can and should consider: Be famous for 1 thing – don’t try to embed a host of brand attributes into the minds of shoppers. “Policy Tenure Under the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).” Risk Analysis, Vol. If you’re making a judgment about the present or the recent past, negative experiences will come to mind more easily. To begin, let’s take a closer look at what it is. How would you go about making such a guess? Note: This is a part of the series “Outsmart Your Biases“. Seek … But people in power “reported a more favorable attitude toward sending humans to Mars after generating few as opposed to many arguments.”[44]. Even though negative events have an outsized impact as they are experienced, they have a diminished impact as they are remembered. But sometimes they cause real harm. When they compared the numbers, the researchers found that when people thought of how often they ate out in the recent past, the people who thought of two instances of eating out were more likely to perceive themselves as the kinds of people who eat out compared to the people who thought of ten instances of eating out (5.5 vs. 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 7). You look out for sharks when you should be running from coconuts. 1. This trend continues right up until the present. Let’s use this as our working definition of the availability heuristic: The availability heuristic is a shortcut that confuses easy with true when you make a decision. [12] People are also more likely to buy stock after a large positive earnings surprise and they are more likely to sell stock after a large negative earnings surprise, compared to smaller earnings surprises. As we’ve seen, ease-of-recall can override the actual content of what you’re recalling when you’re making judgment. The Pollyanna Principle: Selectivity in language, memory, and thought. What is the animal that I speak of? We are more likely to notice a threatening face in a crowd of people than a neutral or positive face. These examples—the positions of letters in words, a prediction about a hypothetical couple—are interesting thought exercises that reveal a quirk in our cognitive processes. [39] Here are the results: You would expect that when arsenic risks went up by a factor of ten, willingness to pay to eliminate those risks would go up by the same amount. (1991). And as time passes, the glass becomes even fuller. Recalling two events in the recent past is much easier than recalling ten events in the recent past, so people who recall two events think they eat out a lot, while people who recall ten events think they rarely eat out because the former is easy and the latter is hard. An example would be the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. [36] Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., &Vohs, K. (2001). However, when people are exposed to frequent ads to antidepressants, they estimate that 38% of adults experience depression each year. In their new book, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein provide insight into why investors make certain choices. Using the availability heuristic means a few things: Items that are easier to recall take on greater weight than they should. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. But when people were multitasking during retrieval, performance dropped. “The availability heuristic in the classroom: How soliciting more criticism can boost your course Our brain is wired to find the optimal balance between speed and accuracy, which means you’ll never be able to completely overcome the availability heuristic. And they’re all posting pictures on Facebook. Earthquake Insurance: A Longitudinal Study of California Homeowners. | See also | References . Steven Pinker writes in Enlightenment Now that “a quantitative mindset, despite its nerdy aura, is, in fact, the morally enlightened one, because it treats every human life as having equal value rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic.”[46]. “The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: The catastrophizing of personal worries.” British Journal of Psychology, 88(1), 85-91. The larger point is the final decision was not based on actual frequency data—it was made on data that came to mind most easily.[15]. If you can’t think of a single Spanish matador, then you won’t be subject to the bias. As a result, people perceived their risk to be greater than before, which made them more likely to purchase flood insurance. Can you name ten?” Without actually thinking of reasons, simply knowing that it’s easier to think of one reason than ten reasons made the first ad 27% more effective, even though it implies there are fewer reasons to buy a BMW. One psychologist found that when people were asked to guess the frequency of the occurrence of letters in a set of words, the guesses correlated at .79 with the actual frequency. Did you know you are twice as likely to be killed by a coconut at the beach than a shark? The data most available to him was cold temperatures, not all temperatures averaged out. It’s obvious everyone else is on the beach during spring break, so my life must suck. But what makes something easy? [1] Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1973). Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. ), Foundations of Social Cognition. Erlbaum. [10] When it’s easy to think about depression, people are more likely to think more people are depressed. Another example of the availability heuristic is the tendency to favor more recent information over older information, because it is fresher in the mind. Now suppose I ask you how often you drove in the last month. “Overreaction to fearsome risks.” Environmental and Resource Economics, 48 (3), 435–449. You consider a p… Because words where k is the first letter come to mind more easily than words where k is the third letter, and because you are more likely to believe things that come to mind easily are true, you get it wrong. As time passed, memories of the same experiences became more positive.[37]. And students as a whole thought accidents were 25 times more likely than strokes. They cause the most harm when you’re required to make judgments or predictions for low probability, extreme outcomes. The affect heuristic may cause us to favor information and options that are framed to elicit an immediate emotional response. If you’re an instructor and you want your students to give you a positive rating, ask them for so much negative feedback that they have a hard time thinking of more. This: the events, memories, experiences, topics, and ideas that come to mind most easily are believed to be the truest. Ease of recalled content affects judgment far more than the actual content of what people recall. Compare two versions of an ad: This kind of highly emotional, vivid imagery overrides probability calculations because it comes to mind more easily. In others, not. When you start studying in advance, you can avoid using whatever information comes to your mind first. “It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that people with a higher level of domain knowledge, who possess a more developed and complete cognitive representation of the focal domains, will be less prone to the bias than people with a lower level of domain knowledge.”, However, if you’re aware you’re not an expert, then you won’t rely on ease-of-recall. Because words where k is at the beginning, such as kite, keep, or kayak, come to mind easily when you’re thinking of the letter k. They are readily available in your memory. To know for sure, you would need to weigh the benefit of lowering cancer risk against the high costs of meeting the new standards. Those are vivid, memorable, and often negative experiences that leave a lasting impression. That’s because floods don’t occur very often. Third, when a cause of death had a 2:1 ratio or more–or, when one cause of death was at least twice as likely as the other–people could identify it as being more frequent. In this post, we are going to unpack what the availability heuristic is, why it matters, how it works, and how to overcome it. What comes to mind easily–recency–becomes a substitute for calculating the overall frequency. Now, suppose, after you made this list, I asked you whether you thought you were an assertive person. Whether or not you think you’re assertive has nothing to do with how many examples you can generate to support your position. Second, they were to give a ratio to indicate how much more likely one cause was over the other. What was surprising, however, was that this tendency was more pronounced when people were happy. Because people have trouble calculating the real risk of low-probability, extreme events—like dying in an aviation-related terrorist attack, or dying in a car accident—they rely on non-frequency cues to determine how they should travel. (This phenomenon explains why, after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the stock price of major insurance companies climbed even as the companies took a financial hit from insurance payouts. If your emotional state is negative, on the other hand, you are more inclined to see the activity as being lo… But when they were asked to produce many reasons why their car wouldn’t start, they found it difficult. Shortcuts are often good. 295-318. People represent themselves positively on Facebook. The same is true when a company’s stock experiences high trading volume or posts bigger- or smaller-than-normal one-day gains or losses. And how much does easiness contribute to your recall? This rate holds whether there’s a natural disaster or not. Note that they were not asked how many times they out. [23], What’s even more strange is that it’s simply enough to expect thinking of examples to be difficult. When you find something similar, you jump to a conclusion based on your belief. New York, NY: Viking. With betting however it is important to think in long-term patterns , and ignore short-term form to a certain degree. New York: Psychology Press. [6] Gallagher (2014). But when they recalled ten details (not so easy), they believed it happened further in the past. Second, you’ll put together a story or scenario that may lead to divorce—something she said, something he did. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Actually, k appears more often in the third position in a word. As a result, an additional 2,170 people who would have otherwise flown lost their lives in car accidents. [38] Raghubir, P. & Menon, G. (2005). But if you’re making a judgment about the more distant past, positive events will come to mind more easily. The word bacon occurs more often than the word pastrami. And the fact that it comes to mind easily becomes the shortcut for making a judgment about how often a person rides their bike.). When non-experts were asked to think of a few reasons why their car wouldn’t start, they had little difficulty. Every day I spend time boiling the kettle – it takes me 10 minutes because the kettle is very old. [35] Matlin, M. W. , & Stang, D. J. “Psychological probability as a function of experienced frequency.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 46 (2):81. People who were asked to recall two instances of eating out in the past four months reported roughly the same subjective frequency as the people who were asked to recall ten instances (5 vs. 5.1 on a scale of 1 to 7). One researcher who studies happiness in marriages found that the number of positive interactions needs to outnumber negative interactions by five to one. You overcorrect. For these kinds of events, you’re more likely to use availability data than frequency data. In Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Pinker’s follow-up to Better Angels, Pinker writes: “It’s easy to see how the Availability heuristic, stoked by the news policy, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ could induce a sense of gloom about the state of the world. There are more pigeons than orioles in urban areas. [28] Hansen and Hansen (1988). ( Log Out /  Choose a member of the team to read over the items on the snake before the pruning, This team member is looking for trends and adding up time e.g, The team member who has spotted the trends and the outliers give a brief description of them. If it’s easy to bring the data to mind, then the couple will divorce. Two psychologists have found that people who have more than the average number of Facebook friends rely on the availability heuristic when they compare themselves to their friends, and as a result, they believe their friends are happier and have better lives than they do. Look for contrary examples. [26] (Think of correlation on a scale of -1 to 1, with 1 being perfect correlation.). when you’re in a position of leadership or feel powerful, instead of in a submissive role. But offline, real-world interactions with your friends contain no such selection bias. [45] Ruder, M. and Bless, H. (2003). What you won’t see is that most of your friends are stuck in Michigan, just like you are. Those who could think of lots of examples of riding their bikes believed they rode infrequently. Much of what’s found on TV news is negative, extreme, and low probability—and this distorts your view of the world. Your brain needs to process more data than it can handle. Next, each group was asked to estimate on a scale of 1 to 7 how often they ate out. We all talked about the tea bags running out how it effected us and what we were going to do to prevent it in the future. Dan Mirvish from the Huffington Post noticed a correlation between the increase in share price of Berkshire Hathaway and release dates for movies starring Anne Hathaway: News about Anne Hathaway makes people slightly more likely to think about Berkshire Hathaway, which drives up demand for Berkshire Hathaway stock. When your car won’t start, you might guess your car has a dead battery or a bad starter. Are you more likely to be killed working as a police officer or as a fisherman? We make a judgment based on what we can remember, rather than complete data. The most overestimated causes of death are botulism, tornado, flood, homicide, car accidents, other accidents of all kinds, and cancer. The ease-of-recall bias kicks in, and you misdiagnose the problem. The important distinction is between 1) the content of what they are thinking, and 2) how easy it is for them to think it. . [32] Gottman, J.M. In a review of 52 memory studies, researchers found a much higher proportion of positive events over negative events. The availability heuristic also affects whether, where, and how you invest your money. If you were an assertive person, it would be easy to think of examples of your assertiveness. It’s spring break, and all your friends traveled somewhere warm. M. Bar-Hillel, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2001. Arsenic increases cancer risk. “Bad is stronger than good.” Review of General Psychology, Vol 5(4), Dec 2001, 323-370. Except for this time, they didn’t ask how often people ate out in the previous four months. “Gaining from Loss: Property-Liability Insurer Stock Values in the Aftermath of the 1989 California Earthquake.” The Journal of Risk and Insurance, Vol. People in power (or who feel powerful) are more likely to rely on ease-of-recall when making a decision. We’ve seen that a variety of factors make something easier to recall: frequent, extreme, negative, recent, and vivid events come to mind easily, which means they have an outsized influence on your judgments and decisions. We recall things more easily because we correctly judge they occur more frequently. Avoiding Availability Heuristic Lets look back at our availability heuristic example. [30] Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., &Vohs, K. (2001). Were you just promoted? Grab a writing implement and a post-it. However, as we’ll see next, recent events tend to come to mind more easily, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Non-experts are more affected by ease-of-recall bias. Non-riders viewed themselves as avid cyclists, while frequent riders kicked themselves for never riding. (2006). People cancel their insurance policies if they don’t feel these policies protect them. [46] Pinker, S. (2018). People who were sad or depressed were less likely to be as adamant in their disagreement that reducing the number of years of schooling was a good idea.[45]. Lets look back at our availability heuristic example. The median length of a flood insurance policy is between two and four years. If the availability heuristic compromises your ability to use frequency data when making a judgment, then the solution isn’t too difficult: rely on frequency data. On our team we have solved the problem by introducing a waste snake. In 1990, 68.6% of the same respondents gave a 1 in 10 chance, and in 1993 it rose to 75.7%. If you find it easy to come up with a story, then you’ll use the ease of creating the story as a shortcut for predicting divorce. People remember more positive things than negative things in the long term. In a study, people were grouped by their mood: a happy group and a sad group. Your mood is a significant predictor of whether ease-of-recall will affect your judgment. Pause, think, don’t make a “now or never” kind of decision. The same thing happened after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In neither actual—comparing this couple to other couples, and coming up with a story—are you using actual data to make your prediction. Here are some of Pinker’s data: Pinker’s thesis received a strong reaction. To avoid the availability heuristic, acknowledge that your memory may not always serve you best. Bush’s critics argued he had enacted regulation that would put people at a greater risk for cancer. You rely on the ease with which something comes to mind instead of the content of what comes to mind when making a decision. We did not recall the problem with the slow kettle as this was not the most readily available in our minds whereas the disaster of the tea bags was. [4], The same phenomenon occurred after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Description. [2] Coconuts are not only more dangerous than sharks. [40] Dyson, F. (2011). Watching the news makes you depressed. Let’s move now to the next point, which is about how to overcome availability bias. [21] Kahneman, D. (2011). The most underestimated causes of death are asthma, tuberculosis, diabetes, stomach cancer, stroke, and heart disease. It’s part of human nature. As time passes, the negative memories become less negative. While we are far more likely to notice negative events as they happen, we are far more likely to remember positive events as time passes. At 10 parts per billion, it’s 1 in 500. By the second year, this drops to 49.5%. Once again, you can make a good guess, but you’re probably not quite as sure. In a 1989 study be de Turck and colleagues, the participants played the role of jurors, and some of them heard a witness get caught in a lie and then later tell the truth, and others heard him tell the truth and later get caught in a lie. We are not good at predicting how often extreme, but rare, causes of death actually occur. Media scholars who tally news stories of different kinds, or present editors with a menu of possible stories and see which they pick and how they display them, have confirmed that the gatekeepers prefer negative to positive coverage, holding the events constant. [3] Michel-Kerjan, E., de Forges, S., and Kunreuther, H. (2012). However, while heuristics … 3, pp. “Policy Tenure Under the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).” Risk Analysis, Vol. Experts don’t have the same problem. If it’s difficult to remember, it must have happened in the more distant past. Yet you probably think the opposite: that hate crimes, terrorist acts, school shootings, homicides, and other kinds of violence are on the rise. New York, NY: Viking. ( Log Out /  Change ), You are commenting using your Twitter account. Options and information that is framed this way are favored over those that aren’t. Before Bill Clinton left office, he mandated that the standard for arsenic in drinking water be reduced from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. You owe it to yourself and to others to avoid making decisions informed by how easy it is to call to mind relevant factors for making those decisions. The brain places ease of recall in a privileged position when you’re multitasking. In some cases, it would be worth it. (2008), “When Subjective Experiences Matter: Power Increases Reliance on the Ease of Retrieval.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 94(6), June 2008, 956-970. You’re more likely to rely on the availability heuristic. [25] Xu, J. The lesson? Availability influences influence your perceived frequency. In one experiment, researchers asked business travelers passing through a busy airport to generate either two or six arguments for sending people to Mars. As a result, you are more likely to make bad decisions, miscalculate and overreact to risks, hold inaccurate perceptions about yourself and others, and behave in ways that aren’t in your best interests.