Which job is more dangerous-being a policeman or a lumberjack? Although high-profile police shootings may make you think that the police’s work is the most dangerous, statistics actually show that lumberjacks are more likely to lose their lives at work than police.
When making such judgments about relative risks or dangers, our brains rely on many different strategies to make quick decisions. This illustrates the so-called usability heuristic, a psychological shortcut that helps you make quick but sometimes incorrect assessments.
There are various psychological shortcuts, but one common shortcut involves relying on information that comes to mind quickly. This is called “availability”. If you can quickly think of multiple examples of something happening (such as a police shooting), you would believe it is more common.
Illustration by Emily Roberts, VigorTip
How Usability Heuristics Work
When you try to make a decision, some related events or situations may immediately come to your mind. Therefore, you may judge that these events are more frequent or more likely to occur than others. You trust this information more and tend to overestimate the probability and possibility of similar things happening in the future.
For example, after reading several news reports about car thefts, you might decide that car thefts are much more common than the actual situation in your area. This type of usability heuristic can be very helpful and important in decision making. When faced with choices, we often lack the time or resources to conduct more in-depth investigations.
Faced with situations that require immediate decisions, usability heuristics allow people to draw conclusions quickly.
This is helpful when you are trying to make decisions or judgments about the world around you. For example, would you say that there are more words in English that start with letters? Ton Or with letter gram?
You might try to answer this question by thinking of as many words as possible that start with each letter.Since you can think of more Ton, And you might think that there are more words starting with that letter than words starting with gramIn this case, usability heuristics allow you to get the correct answer.
In another example, the researchers found that people who are more likely to recall seeing antidepressant advertisements are also more likely to give higher estimates of the prevalence of depression.
Usability heuristics and incorrect decisions
This term was first coined in 1973 by Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. They suggest that usability heuristics happen unconsciously and operate under the principle of “if you can think of it, it must be important.” Things that are easier to think of are considered to be more common and accurate reflections of the real world.
As explained by Tversky and Kahneman, one of the most obvious examples of usability heuristics is the impact of ready-made examples.
Common pitfalls of usability heuristics
Like other heuristics, usability heuristics are sometimes useful. However, it may cause problems and errors. Reports of kidnappings of children, airplane accidents and train derailments often lead people to believe that such incidents are much more typical than reality.
For example, after you watch a movie about a nuclear disaster, you may be convinced that a nuclear war or a nuclear accident is very likely. After seeing a car roll over on the side of the road, you may think that the possibility of an accident is very high.
In addition, the longer you focus on an event, the more available it is in your mind, and the more likely you are to believe it. The problem is that certain events tend to be more prominent in our minds than others.
Excessive media coverage may cause this to happen, but sometimes the novelty or drama surrounding the event may make it more usable in your memory. Since the event is very unusual, it has greater significance, which can lead you to incorrectly assume that the event is more common than it actually is.
Usability heuristic example
Here are some scenarios that can play a role in your daily life.
- After reading articles about lottery winners, you start to overestimate your chances of winning. You start to spend more money on lottery tickets every week than you should.
- After seeing news reports about people losing their jobs, you may begin to believe that you are in danger of being fired. You start to wake up every night and lie in bed, worrying that you will be fired.
- After seeing news reports about high-profile kidnappings of children, you begin to believe that such tragedies are very common. You refuse to let your child play outside alone, and never let her out of your sight.
- After watching a few TV shows about shark attacks, you begin to think that such incidents are more common. When you go on vacation, you refuse to swim in the sea because you believe that the probability of a shark attack is high.
Very good sentence
Heuristic methods play an important role in how we make decisions and take actions based on information about the world around us. Usability heuristics can be a useful tool, but it is also important to remember that it can sometimes lead to erroneous assessments.
Just because something appears big in your memory does not necessarily mean it is more common, so when you are trying to make a choice, relying on numerous tools and decision-making strategies may help.