Growing up, Jyoti watched a lot of cartoon television shows. She was obsessed with Tom and Jerry, an American television series, where Tom (a house cat) persistently chased a notorious mouse named Jerry. But when Jyoti saw street cats and mice coexisting in the same neighborhood, she was confused.

It’s because of the representativeness heuristic that Jyoti expects to see cats chasing down mice. A type of cognitive bias, representativeness heuristic should be addressed and challenged because it leads to poor decision-making. Let’s see how certain strategies and techniques can help tackle this bias.


  1. Difference Between Heuristic & Bias First


  2. Understanding The Representative Heuristic Psychology


  3. Availability Bias Vs. Representativeness Bias


  4. Can We Tackle Representativeness Bias

     

Difference Between Heuristic And Bias First

Thanks to Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists, heuristics and cognitive biases gained a lot of attention, especially in business and management circles. They proposed that biases and heuristics distort people’s judgment, affecting decision-making and critical thinking.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows us to make decisions quickly and efficiently. Although it’s time-efficient and helpful in various situations, a heuristic is a breeding ground for biases. 

A cognitive bias is a preconceived notion about something or someone that may not necessarily reflect reality. It’s a systematic error in thinking that affects decisions and judgments.

There are three types of heuristics, two of which are the most commonly recurring—availability and representativeness heuristic. 

Understanding The Representative Heuristic Psychology

Representativeness heuristic, also known as representativeness bias, is a type of mental shortcut we use to judge the probability of an event or object. In other words, we jump to conclusions about something or someone on the basis of how representative the particular case is. Representativeness is essentially stereotyping when the similarity between events and objects confuse people regarding the probability of an outcome.

Imagine assessing an event ‘A’. You tend to make judgments about ‘A’ based on how closely it resembles event ‘B’. Therefore, A is representative of B. Let’s take this popular example inspired by the work of Kahneman and Tversky (Thinking Fast and Slow, 2011) and see how representativeness heuristic plays out in various situations.

Linda is an outspoken and smart woman. Not only has she majored in philosophy, but she has also actively voiced her opinions against issues of discrimination and social injustice.

What is more probable about Linda?

  • She is a bank teller

  • She is a bank teller who is also a social activist

If you have picked option 2, then you’re not alone. In all likelihood, the first option is true but your choice is affected because you have compared it with the existing prototype that’s already present in your mind. This logical fallacy is a result of representativeness bias.

 

We often make judgments based on an already existing impression about something. Consumers often prefer a branded product as opposed to a generic product because they feel that cost is related to the quality. Similarly, investors often assume that enterprises with quality products/services will necessarily bring good returns. Many investors also judge a business based on its historical performance. If it has performed consistently well in the last few years, it will continue to perform well in the future. As you can see from these examples of representativeness heuristic, quick judgments are dangerous and can lead to costly consequences. 

Availability Bias Vs. Representativeness Bias

Both availability and representativeness heuristic rely on memory, making it easy to confuse the two. The availability heuristic is when you make judgments about something or someone depending on how easily examples come to your mind i.e., easily available instances. 

For example, you hear the news of increasing deaths because of the COVID-19 pandemic. You’re unlikely to step outside and interact with anyone because you don’t want to risk it. It relies on your memory of specific instances and the information you’ve been exposed to. On the other hand, the representativeness heuristic relies on your memory of specific instances but it has more to do with a stereotype, prototype or average. 

Can We Tackle Representativeness Bias?

One of the primary reasons that we are often blinded by the representativeness bias is because we have limited cognitive resources. It’s rooted in the fundamental way of perceiving and understanding the world. It’s impossible to rid this bias entirely but there are ways to minimize it, such as:

  • Asking someone to play the devil’s advocate and to tell you when you’re wrong. In other words, you can ask for feedback when making important decisions. For example, when hiring new employees, make sure that there’s a third person present to provide objective viewpoints.

  • If you make any hasty decisions, check if it’s backed by data. Write down the reason behind your judgments and what made you think a certain way.

  • Stop living in the past—approach every situation with a fresh perspective. You can’t let one past incident affect your judgment about every future situation.

Harappa Education’s Reasoning Logically course will help you to become a strategic thinker. You’ll always analyze situations carefully before jumping to conclusions. The System of Thinking framework will teach you how to process and respond to information in a comprehensive manner. The Reason Grid will help you evaluate situations better. Minimize biases and make sound judgments with Harappa’s courses today! 


Explore topics such as What is HeuristicAvailability Heuristic & Systems of Thinking from Harappa Diaries to think clearly and rationally.

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