The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that individuals use to make judgments and decisions based on the ease with which examples or instances of a particular event or phenomenon come to mind. This heuristic is often used when individuals are faced with complex or uncertain situations, and it allows them to make decisions quickly and efficiently by relying on information that is readily available to them. However, the availability heuristic can also lead to biases and errors in decision-making, as the information that is most readily available may not necessarily be the most relevant or accurate. For example, if asked to judge the likelihood of a rare event, such as a plane crash, an individual may use the availability heuristic by considering recent news stories or personal experiences with plane crashes. This may lead to an overestimation of the likelihood of the event, as it ignores other relevant information such as the overall safety record of the airline industry.
What is an example of the availability heuristic?
An example of the availability heuristic is when people believe that air travel is more dangerous than driving a car because they have more vivid memories of plane crashes that were extensively covered by the media, even though the likelihood of dying in a car crash is much higher. Similarly, people may perceive certain types of crime as more common or more threatening because those crimes are frequently discussed in the news and social media.
Another example is when people overestimate the frequency of negative events like terrorist attacks or natural disasters, due to the vividness of media coverage, even though these events are relatively rare in reality.