Chapter 3 class discussion: The Availability Heuristic or “It Seems Like . . .”
The Availability Heuristic or “It Seems Like . . .”
You can probably recognize and appreciate the availability heuristic. We are often exhibiting it when we use the phrase, “it seems like.” For example, have you ever said or thought, it seems like:
- every time I step in the shower the phone rings.
- every time I don’t do the reading I get called on by the instructor.
- whenever I get into a checkout line it turns out to be the slowest one.
- every time I leave late for work there is a lot of traffic.
We tend to overestimate the frequency of more vivid and memorable instances or events because they are the ones that are most available to memory when we try to retrieve information to answer a question or make a decision. So, we remember the times that the phone rang or that the instructor called on us and judge them to be more common than they actually are. Visual images are some of the more vivid pieces of information we encounter, so, as Myers notes, the visual media can easily elicit the availability heuristic. As a result, we tend to overestimate how often children are kidnapped by strangers, how often women are raped by strangers, and how much the mentally ill represent a danger to us.
a funny example of the media’s influence on such judgments can be viewed in a clip from The Daily Show, which spoofs the media’s tendency to exaggerate a few incidents into a crisis or phenomenon. In I Know What You Did Last Summer of the Shark, a 3-1/2 minute clip available online (http://www.cc.com/video-clips/ibdtya/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-i-know-what-you-did-last-summer-of-the-shark (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. ), The Daily Show pokes fun at how the media turns a very small and typical number of shark attacks into a full-blown epidemic.
For each of the following heuristics, provide an ORIGINAL example (not one from the textbook or lecture) that illustrates how people make decisions. Be sure to explain how use of each of the various heuristics can lead to incorrect inferences.