Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Availability Heuristic

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Also (again) from Thinking, Fast and Slow.

A major advance in the understanding of the availability heuristic occurred in the early 1990s, when a group of German psychologists led by Norbert Schwarz raised an intriguing question: How will people's impressions of the frequency of a category be affected by a requirement to list a specified number of instances? Imagine yourself a subject in that experiment:

First, list six instances in which you behaved assertively.

Next, evaluate how assertive you are.

Imagine that you had been asked for twelve instances of assertive behavior (a number most people find difficult). Would your view of your own assertiveness be different?...

The contest yielded a clear-cut winner: people who had just listed twelve instances rated themselves as less assertive than people who had listed only six. Furthermore, participants who had been asked to list twelve cases in which they had not behaved assertively ended up thinking of themselves as quite assertive! If you cannot easily come up with instances of meek behavior, you are likely to conclude that you are not meek at all. Self-ratings were dominated by the ease with which examples came to mind...

Psychologists enjoy experiments that yield paradoxical results, and they have applied Schwarz's discover with gusto. For example, people:

  • believe that they use their bicycles less often after recalling many rather than few instances
  • are less confident in a choice when they are asked to produce more arguments to support it
  • are less confident that an event was avoidable after listing more ways it could have been avoided
  • are less impressed by a car after listing many of its advantages

Editor's note: PEOPLE ARE SO WEIRD!!!!!