a)Study especially hard for an exam OR
b)ask someone for (or accept) a date.
Under what circumstances are these heuristics likely to contribute to poor decision making?
Every day throughout our lives a decision will have to be made. The magnitude of this decision will quite obviously vary from choice to choice, but the principle remains. Whether we are deciding to walk a certain direction, or turn off the light, or even if we are deciding to attempt world domination a choice has to be made. With these choices comes indecision. There is no formula to work out how people are going to react to certain situations, so essentially any choice is a stab in the dark. These choices may be well informed, but as Benjamin Franklin said in 1789; “nothing in life is sure except death and taxes.”
Heuristics are a trial-and-error type method of helping to decide which decision to make. Human decision making often portrays a theory of bounded rationality. This means that human thinking may seem rational, but isn’t, for a number of reasons. There are too many variables to calculate. Often, also, we are provided with information which is not complete. A rational decision needs symmetric information in order to be truly rational, by analysing all inputs, and as a result possible outcomes. This is where humans begin to use heuristics as a method of making the decision. These heuristics are often the cause of irrational behaviour, however, as they do not always help us make the right decision.
There are three heuristic that should be mentioned. Representativeness heuristics are those based on general past experiences. Essentially these heuristics are based on stereo types. For example, if someone were to tell you that their mother was a nurse, then you would conjure up images of nurses from your past experiences. You would then compare and contrast these images and form an opinion of whether you believed the statement or not. Due to these stereotypes, there are often misconceptions or ignorance of aspects of the decision that should be made.
The probability of the desired reaction occurring as a result of the choice may be disregarded. For example, when asking someone on a date, many approaches can be taken. A choice has to be made whether to be coy or confident, docile or dominant. Is a chat up line a suitable way to go, or do you just say hello and try to take it from their? These decisions will normally be based on past experiences of success or failure. If a man had tried on the last three times, the same chat up line with success each time he is likely to try again. Even if someone were to provide rock solid evidence that chat up lines only worked 5% of the time and that the other 95% of the time they failed, then the man is still likely to feel confident that he will succeed.
The man would also be risking a misconception of chance. If the man, after his three successes were to be asked what his chance of success is, he would probably give an answer in the high percentage range. However, this would be inaccurate, as in the case of flipping a coin. If you were to flip a coin and get 12 heads in a row, the chance of getting head on the next go is still 50%. The same idea would apply to the next woman he try’s the chat up line on. Even if he had tried the chat up line on three different women, then this is just a small percentage of the female population and he is just as likely to get a woman who will turn him down.
This is otherwise known as misconception of sample size. With smaller sample sizes there is more likely to be a large deviation from 50%. This could however work to his advantage. The sample size in general would contain every female in the world, so the average would theoretically be 50% chance of success. His sample size however is only the females he has tried it on, so even if the next girl were to turn him down that would still be a 75% success rate. This is where the misconception would be, because the next girl is not part of his sample size, she is part of the woman population as a whole.
The availability heuristic differs in that you would base your decision on the ease at which you could bring similar circumstances to mind. For example if you were playing basketball and thought about attempting a shot from far out, you would recall how often that shot had been made. The instances do not necessarily have to be from personal past experiences, they could also be the frequency that you had seen someone else make that shot. If one of your team mates had made the shot many times, then you may start to believe that you could also make that shot. This retrievability of instances can also be applied to asking someone out on a date.
If you knew the person that you were asking out and knew a small history about other times they had been asked out, you could gage your decision on that information. If you knew that they had been asked out a great number of times but had the inclination to turn down all the offers that had been proposed this may deter you from asking that person out. This could, however, be contradicted by the misconception of chance aspect of the representative heuristic. You may disregard your ability to not recall the person saying yes. On the other hand if you knew that the person who you wanted to ask out was quite open minded and liked to say yes just to see how things could develop, then you are likely to feel that you are in with a good chance of being accepted too.
The effectiveness of this search set is also a key factor. To use a word recall example, if someone were to ask you how many words rhymed with “house”, you would recall all the words you could think of and maybe add a few just in case you had missed some. The chance of you being right in this example determines greatly on the number of words that you could personally think of that rhymed with “house”. If you only knew of two words, then your estimate is likely to be less than that of someone who knew 6 words that rhymed. This too could be applied when making that decision to ask someone out. You may only be able to recall the times which your object of desire has turned people down. If however, this was just a small number of instances and they had actually accepted many other advances, then your ineffective search set could cause you to shirk away when you actually had a good chance of success.
The adjustment heuristic is used when you have an initial value of chance. You take this value and extend it to the situation that you require. A study by Bar-Hillel (1973) focused on conjunctive and disjunctive events. Subjects were asked to bet on a pair of events. These events were:
1) (single)draw a red marble from a bag containing 50% red marbles
2) (conjunctive) draw a red marble 7 times in a row from a bag containing 90% red marbles
3) (disjunctive) draw at least one red marble in 7 tries (with replacement) from a bag containing 10% red marbles
It was found that even though choice 1 is more likely than choice 2, subjects mis-adjusted the 90% chance and bet on 2 being more likely. Conversely, choice 3 is more likely than choice 1, but subjects again did not adjust the 50% chance right, and bet on choice 1.
This is the least likely heuristic you would use when asking someone on a date, but can still be applied to a lesser degree. If for example, a man knew two women he wanted to ask out both may have a different possibility of accepting his proposal. His preferred choice may have only a 10% chance of saying yes, while the other was 50/50. He would more than likely ask the second girl even though, if he were persistent enough, he may be more successful with the first girl if he could accept a few failures.
Given these three types of heuristics that can be used by people it seems that the adjustment heuristic is the least likely to be used. When dealing with people it is next to impossible to come up with accurate statistical information. The likelihood of somebody actually working out percentage chances of being accepted is next to none. Given this a decision would have to be made between representative heuristic and availability heuristic. Each has its pitfalls and advantages.
As asking someone on a date is a very personal thing, it would probably be a wiser choice to base your expectations on personal experience using representative heuristics. This could succeed in certain situations, but there are also situation with which it could be unsuccessful. All human beings differ in great ways, and personality is one of them. Perhaps the person you are asking out is extremely cynical, or your own personality is over confident. All these factors go into whether or not you almost rational decision would be successful.
Rational decision always have been, and will continue to be used by humans the world over. Often they result in success, and often they do not. Perhaps some people are more rational than others, but this will not increase their likelihood of success. To reiterate the Benjamin Franklin quote : “nothing in life is sure except death and taxes”. So with this in mind perhaps it is better to put that rational decision making aside and just take a risk.