Heuristics Explained Simply

Heuristics – All You Need To Know

In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about heuristics, defining exactly what they are, their evolutionary role, why they can lead to poor decisions, how to overcome them and more.

What Are Heuristics?

Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts (if this then that) the brain utilizes to simplify complex decision-making processes. More simply, they are rules of thumb.

They work to help conserve scarce mental energy and protect the brain from overload.

The Evolutionary Perspective

From an evolutionary perspective, heuristics evolved as adaptive mental tools, conserving scarce mental energy and protecting the brain from overload.

They enabled our forebears to react quickly and effectively in uncertain environments, often trading off accuracy for speed. These quick-fire solutions became embedded in our cognitive toolkit, influencing our modern-day decision-making.

“Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” ― Alfred North Whitehead

Why They Can Lead To Poor Decisions

Heuristics prioritise speed over accuracy. As a result, they can cause us to distort, delete and generalise information which obstructs out ability to see the world objectively, as it really is. Since success is determined by how accurately we can perceive reality, this ultimately leads to poor decision-making.

How To Overcome Our Biases

The primary key to overcoming the pitfalls of heuristics lies in awareness. By first becoming aware of them and then secondly recognising when we’re defaulting to them, we can question our initial assumptions, consider alternative viewpoints and make decisions that are more informed and balanced.

In addition, we can create our own heuristics so that they align with our goals and the life we desire.

Summary (TL;DR)

Heuristics are mental shortcuts humans have evolved to make quick decisions. Since they prioritise speed over accuracy, they can lead to poor decision making.

The key to mitigating potential pitfalls of them is by cultivating awareness, prompting us to critically evaluate our instinctual judgements so that we can make more informed decisions.


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