Frequently Asked Questions About Heuristic Psychology

Let’s draw a little scenario about three students hearing the same lie – the teacher collapsed in the faculty room – from the same classmate at different times from the get-go.

Annie, the first student, heard the news over lunch through Mario. She finds him a reliable source of information, considering his mother taught at the school. Without asking for further details, she goes straight to the school clinic to check on their teacher, only to meet a baffled nurse. Annie goes to her next class, feeling utterly fooled by her classmate.

When Mario sees Jane at another time, he relays the same news to her. Instead of believing her classmate, though, Jane raises an eyebrow and walks away without another word. Based on Mario’s eager expression, she deduced that he was up to no good. And if he were telling the truth, the news would have erupted all over the campus already.

Before the day ends, Mario catches up with Sybil and talks about his fake information. Unsure if she should believe him or not, she hurries to the bus to discuss it with her friends. Sybil continues the conversation through the phone when she reaches home, asking people if they have seen their teacher at any time throughout the day. This issue could have been solved early if she called the said teacher at once.


What Is This About?

The situation above describes how people with different backgrounds and perspectives think about the same idea. Though Mario relayed the information ideally the same way, every student interpreted it as believable, unbelievable, or up for debate. In psychology, experts call it heuristics.

Heuristics often comes to play when you need to decide everything. After all, you can always say yes or no or maybe, but your answer relies on how your brain accepts the thought. This allows you to explain why you have made that decision.

In Annie’s case, she saw Mario as an authority figure. She did not question his statement, given that his mother worked with the person in question. Thus, she ended up getting pranked.

Jane, on the other hand, used her instincts and observation skills. She might have known Mario’s fooling habits, so her initial reaction was to avoid believing his words. It served her well in the end because Mario was indeed lying.

As for Sybil, it is highly possible that she found the circumstance absurd, but she could not decide on anything, so she went through all those troubles to gain her truth. Sybil’s way could work, but it was practically an extended cut towards the solution.

If you want to know more about heuristics, allow us to share some frequently asked questions with you: 

What is an example of heuristics psychology? 

 One example of heuristics psychology is our ability to come up with a hypothesis. As you know, a hypothesis is an educated guess that we make when we see or deal with a situation before we even conclude. For instance, by looking at how sweet and caring your friend’s boyfriend is towards them, you assume that he will end up proposing to your friend soon. This assumption is based on how your now-husband has possibly treated you before marriage.


What are the 3 types of heuristics? 

  • Availability: It entails that people’s answers will depend on how many individuals they can relate to. Suppose you ask a person to guess the probability rate of an overweight individual getting diagnosed with diabetes. In that case, they may start thinking of overweight relatives who have the said illness and base their answer on that. 
  • Representativeness: It refers to how an individual fits the way people perceive and categorize a group. For instance, if you meet a man with pale skin wearing a plaid shirt and thick glasses, you may think he is a dorky IT guy. After all, that’s how most people describe smart guys who sit in front of their computers all day long. Sometimes, you may be spot-on; other times, you are merely stereotyping them based on their appearance.
  • Anchoring and Judgment: It pertains to how someone’s numerical guess does not deviate much from the base number (anchor) you mention. Say, if you tell someone, “With 50 as neutral, how would you rate yourself from 1 to 100?” They don’t want to sound too cynical or too proud of themselves so that they may stay near 50.

What is an example of an anchoring heuristic? 

 Let’s say that the average age of teenage working individuals is 16. Then, the question is, how early do they start working? Since ‘16’ is the anchor number, people may begin guessing 16, 15, 14, etc., instead of jumping to any digit.

What is the representative heuristic in psychology? 

 The representative heuristic in psychology refers to a person categorizing what they see based on a stereotype. It is not always true, but our minds tend to link the two quite often.

What is the availability heuristic in psychology? 

 The availability heuristic in psychology pertains to general information available, which serves as an individual’s basis for their answers. 

How do heuristics influence thinking? 

 Heuristics influence thinking by ensuring that various unhelpful thoughts do not cloud your mind and keep you from coming up with a conclusion. 


What are the two types of heuristic? 

 Representativeness and availability are the two main types of heuristics.

What is another word for heuristic? 

 A heuristic is synonymous with probing, lateral thinking, or analytical.

How do we use heuristics in everyday life? 

 We tend to use heuristics in our everyday lives, even when we don’t know that’s what we’re doing. For instance, when you get groceries, you go straight for the vegetables with the least number of holes or dark spots. In your mind, you know that those are fresher than the others.

In a relationship, you can also use heuristics. For example, your boyfriend claims to have forgotten your date because their family dog needed grooming. It sounds absurd as it is, so you are free to conclude that your boyfriend is lying even before they come up with more excuses.

Considering you forget where you placed your keys, you may decide to retrace your steps because you know that you will find them when you reach the end. That’s a heuristic approach that will prevent you from turning every piece of furniture upside down and wasting your time looking for keys.

How do heuristics affect decision making? 

 Heuristics speed up the decision-making process because it does not give people hours or days to think of a solution. The usual thinking process involves laying out the issue and coming up with various possible approaches. But with heuristics, you take the shortcut by guessing how things should go.

How do you develop heuristics? 

 You can develop heuristics by seeing all the variables and focusing on the major ones.

Let’s say that you have a big project that you need to get done within two days. However, you lack the manpower and resources to complete it. A regular individual may start stressing over the first issue – lack of human resources – to the extent that 24 hours have already passed, and they haven’t started on anything yet. 

When you use heuristics, though, you may gather all the resources you can get your hands on first and finish whatever you can by using those. Then, you DIY the rest or ask some friends for help. Either idea is better than getting stuck in a rut.


What is the difference between heuristics and biases? 

 People tend to interchange heuristics and biases, but they are not the same. When you talk about heuristics, you refer to an educated assumption that someone makes regarding a topic. They come to a specific conclusion because they already have previous knowledge about something similar to it. 

As for biases, you are merely talking about judgments, and your words or actions are based on subjective reasons. For instance, if you are to choose the culprit between your brother or a stranger, you may select the latter since you are loyal to your relative, regardless if they genuinely committed the crime or not.

Are heuristics bad? 

 Heuristics are not necessarily flawed, considering they keep you from getting stuck on an idea for days. That’s what people call “analysis paralysis,” and that’s awful. Still, since you are coming up with conclusions quickly, heuristics are not foolproof.

How do you prevent availability heuristics? 

 You can prevent availability heuristics by looking at a question objectively. No matter how much you want to relate it to already-known information, you should not do it because that may lead to overgeneralization.

Final Thoughts

People need to use heuristics all the time. For instance, you may ask yourself, “Should I get up now or sleep for five more minutes?” “Should I take the bus or drive my car today?” “When I reach the office, will it be better to ride the elevator or use the stairs?” So many aspects of our lives require us to make decisions, big or small.

In case you find the decision-making process quite troublesome, though, you are welcome to ask for guidance from licensed psychologists. They can help you understand yourself and your situation until you can make sound decisions on your own.